Last June, UN’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, opened the first-ever UN conference on oceans with a warning: addressing presidents, ministers, diplomats and environmental activists from nearly 200 countries, Guterres affirmed that seas are “under threat as never before". Backing up such concern, a recently published study has forecasted that, if nothing is done, discarded plastic rubbish could outweigh fish by 2050. This UN conference signals a turning point for marine ecosystems. Effectively, it is the first time that sea degradation is given such a central and critical role in the international forum. Even if, due to climate-related discussions, increasing sea levels and the formation of ‘plastic-islands’ had already been addressed, no one could imagine that such scenario could, over the next three decades, definitely compromise life in the marine world.
Actually, the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) launched, last February, a global campaign to eliminate, by 2022, all the major sources of marine litter, such as microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic. Inaugurated at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the #CleanSeas campaign is pressing national governments to “pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas”. Sometimes, even little every-day actions can have substantial impacts on global achievements.
According to the available estimates, more than eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped in oceans every year and with devastating consequences for marine ecosystems and sea-related economic activities alike. In fact, plastic littering ends up having detrimental consequences for the economic wellbeing of both fishing and touristic activities. Current estimates suggest that for every million tonne of plastic dumped in the sea a billion dollar is lost in revenues of related activities. Furthermore, UNEP’s studies warn that, as Guterres remarked, by 2050 oceans will be carrying more plastic than fish and, if actions are not taken, an estimated 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic materials. A scenario threatening the survival of such species. In light of such forecasts, the industrial sector, and particularly the cosmetic industry have been addressed to stop adding microplastics to their products: “as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles – 500 times more than stars in our galaxy – litter our seas, seriously threatening marine wildlife”.
Ten countries have already joined the UN-led campaign committing to turn the plastic tide – unfortunately, not an impressive number vis-à-vis the 180 members of the United Nations family. Amongst the supporters of the #CleanSeas campaign, Indonesia –the hosting country of the Economist World Ocean Summit - has committed to slash its marine litter by an impressive 70% by 2025. Uruguay will instead tax single-use plastic bags to reduce unnecessary over-usage while Costa Rica has committed to foster measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through improved waste management and education. However, remarks the United Nations Environmental Program, non-state actors, such as private firms, must play a central role if meaningful achievements are to be reached. A purposive example could be found in the recent initiative of the globally recognised brand DELL Computers, which has recently unveiled a commercial-scale supply chain using plastic which has been fished out of the sea near Haiti for its product packaging.