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Thursday 14 December 2017

Reducing the problem of plastic

The UN’s draft resolution on marine litter and microplastics is an important step forward, says Professor Anthony Gallagher from Southampton Solent University.

The draft resolution on marine litter and microplastics, recently announced at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, represents an important step forward in developing an international response to what is an ill-controlled problem.  It stresses the importance of eliminating long-term discharges to the oceans, urging all actors to take action by 2025 and prioritising policies that “avoid marine litter and micro plastics entering the marine environment.”

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While it’s disappointing that no specific targets or binding commitments have been applied at this stage, this is a significant call to Member States and international organizations alike to explore and identify a range of innovative options aimed at reducing a very 21st century problem.

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 An awareness of plastic pollution within our Oceans is nothing new.  Thor Heyerdahl documented it as long ago as 1948 following his expedition by raft across the Pacific.  However, the extent of the problem is now clear with an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic entering the marine environment every year, resulting in potentially as much as 250 million tonnes in our global oceans by 2025.  The impacts are potentially devastating, not only to marine life but also to humans, yet control over the many sources and pathways is currently minimal.

Professor Anthony Gallagher is Head of Interdisciplinary Research and Knowledge Exchange for the University. He specialises in marine and maritime sustainability, with research interests in the role of adaptation to climate change; environmental assessment and low carbon energy solutions; and pollution from marine litter and microplastics. More information is available on his academic profile.