IT’S BEEN HUGE WEEK FOR PLASTIC NEWS, SO WE’RE DEDICATING THIS ENTIRE UPDATE TO THE ISSUE
186 countries have reached an agreement to monitor and track movements of plastic waste outside their borders, with the aim of reducing the amount of plastic currently being exported and dumped. Almost every country in the world has signed up to the legally-binding plan – with the US a striking exception.
Officials noted that the UN process was much faster than usual, and attributed the progress partly to growing public awareness and outcry over the impact of plastic pollution. The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, including healthcare, technology, aerospace, fashion, and food and beverages. Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, but even the few non-signatory countries, like the US, could be affected when they ship plastic waste to countries that have signed up.
Meanwhile, an explorer who broke the record for the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine has found yet more plastic at the very bottom of the ocean. Victor Vescovo, an investor and retired naval officer, made the latest plastic discovery as he descended nearly 6.8 miles (35,853 feet) to a point in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench – the deepest place on Earth. His dive went 52 feet lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960. "It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean," says Mr. Vescovo.
The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a new report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fueled in part by the fracking boom in the US. Plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will eat up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants.
Measuring where and how plastic pollution accumulates can be challenging for scientists. To address that question, the authors of a new study catalogued the amount of plastic found on a single archipelago: the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. They discovered that the beaches of Cocos collected an estimated 414 million pieces of man-made debris in 2017. That included 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. Over 95% of the debris pieces were plastic, and 25% could be classified as single-use plastic. In total, the debris weighed more than 262 tons.
Last but certainly not least, a report backed by Sir David Attenborough has documented the impact of discarded plastic on the health of the poorest people in the world. It estimates that between 400,000 and one million people die every year because of diseases and accidents linked to mismanaged waste. That list includes diarrhoea, malaria and cancer, all of which researchers have linked to plastic waste building up up near people’s homes, or being burnt. Attenborough says it’s time to act “not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world”.