In February 2017, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Clean Seas campaign in Indonesia with the aim of engaging governments, the public, and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic litter. The campaign seeks to address the root causes of marine plastic litter through a three-phased strategy over five years (2017-2021). The campaign’s key assets are its global reach; its unified voice, which can bring national movements under a single umbrella; and its collection of engaging materials, which are available in multiple languages.
The Clean Seas campaign aims to ban single-use plastics and microbeads within five years. It will do this by working with Governments to support action, with the private sector to change their business practices, and with citizens to call for action on this issue.
Extent of problem:
Each year, people around the world produce nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic and a similar amount of plastic waste. Of that, as much as 13 million tonnes find its way into our oceans. The flow of pollution means detritus such as drinks bottles and flip-flops -- as well as tiny plastic fragments, including microbeads used in cosmetics -- are concentrating in the oceans and washing up on the most remote shorelines, from deserted Pacific islets to the Arctic Circle. Studies say humans have already dumped billions of tonnes of plastic, and are adding it to the ocean at a rate of eight million tonnes a year.
The plastic wreaks havoc on our fisheries, marine ecosystems and economies, costing up to $13 billion per year in environmental damage. As well as endangering fish, birds and other creatures who mistake it for food or become entangled in it, plastic waste has also entered the human food chain with health consequences that are not yet fully understood.
Microbeads are pieces of plastic, usually spherical in shape, that range in width from a fraction of a millimeter to about a millimeter and a quarter. They're used in soaps because exfoliating products need small, hard particles to rub debris from the skin. These particles can be natural materials, such as ground nut shells or crushed apricot seeds--or they can be manufactured products like microbeads. They are most frequently made of polyethylene but can be of other petrochemical plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene.
Harmful effect of microbeads:
Microbeads are washed down the drain, can pass unfiltered through the sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and canals, resulting in plastic particle water pollution. There's mounting evidence that these beads—while great at scraping dead dermis—are equally adept at killing marine life and bringing harmful chemicals into the food chain. Plastics used in microbeads readily absorb pollutants . Hungry aquatic micro-organisms mistake microbeads for their food source, consume them & slowly these little pieces of plastic travel all the way up the food chain (Biomagnification).
How different stakeholders can contribute to campaign?
Private businesses can contribute by phasing out microbeads in personal care and cosmetics products, improving plastic management and committing to re-design, re-use, recycle, and recover plastic.
The general public can help by taking simple actions in their everyday life that reduce their plastic footprints.
Governments can contribute by pledging to ban microbeads in cosmetics like the US has done, or banning plastic plates and cutlery like or take any other voluntary, regulatory or market based actions to reduce the use of single-use plastics.
In a major collaboration to make the oceans litter-free, four more countries -- Chile, Oman, Sri Lanka and South Africa -- joined UN Environment's Clean Seas campaign by committing measures that include plastic bag bans, new marine reserves and drives to increase recycling. Forty countries are now part of the campaign.