Plastic pollution in waterways likely to more than double by 2030, poses dire threat to biodiversity

"This assessment provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans from source to sea."

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Image Credit: Newburgh Gazette

In a new comprehensive assessment, the United Nations warns that plastic pollution in waterways is likely to more than double by 2030 unless “a drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable, and problematic plastic” is made on a global level. The study, From Pollution to Solution: A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, shows that plastic pollution in aquatic ecosystems has increased in recent years.

Plastic makes up 85 percent of waterways pollution, according to the study, which was conducted by the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

“This assessment provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans from source to sea,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said. “A major concern is the fate of breakdown products, such as microplastics and chemical additives, many of which are known to be toxic, and hazardous to both human and wildlife health, and ecosystems.”

If meaningful intervention isn’t reached, plastic pollution “poses a dire threat to biodiversity,” Common Dreams reported.

“All marine life—from plankton and shellfish to birds, turtles, and mammals—faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation, and suffocation,” according to the study. Plastic pollution in waterways also negatively affects corals, mangroves, and seagrass by preventing them from receiving oxygen and light.

Humans are also vulnerable to plastic pollution in water sources by causing “hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer,” UNEP reported.

“Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks, and even common salt; they penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air,” according to the report.

The study, which will be used at the UN Environment Assembly in 2022, concluded that “a transformation across the whole plastic value chain” is needed to address the global plastic pollution crisis and ultimately cut the production of waste.

“The speed at which ocean plastic pollution is capturing public attention is encouraging,” said Andersen. “It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy, and resilient ocean.”

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