The accumulation of plastic in the ocean has been at its highest rate in history, causing uproar in the global media. In this article, I will be exploring the political management and mismanagement of the plastic crisis.
Approximately 90% of ocean pollution is plastic, which has created a devastating, open wound from which our planet suffers. The main culprit of this environmental disaster is South East Asia, the main offender being China. Ever since the late 1970s, China has been the highest contributor towards plastic production, however the consumption of plastic bags has been restricted in China and banned in India, causing controversy on this environmental issue.
Even though China has taken a step in the right direction, they did refuse to sign the Kyoto climate change agreement in 2008, in which main objective is to reduce the amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Thus, China excessively producing plastic and not successfully and efficiently recycling plastic can see them as the most polluting nation in the world due to the amount of plastic being produced and the carbon dioxide emissions.
Equally, the EU’s legislations on recycling cannot be deemed perfect or even successful as it is fuelling the multimillion-dollar waste market in China. This is due to increased landfill costs, making it cheaper to ship waste abroad for countries like China to dispose of it. In 2010, it was estimated that 7.4 million tonnes of plastic were exported to China; this figure does not include the illegal exportation of plastic waste entering China. Therefore, China cannot be solely to blame for the mismanagement and lack of governance of plastic entering the ocean.
On January 16th, the EU introduced the first ever ‘European Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy’, which consists of the main promises to reduce plastic waste, marine littering and greenhouse gas emissions, and will create a more sustainable and safer way of the consumption and production of plastics. The European Commission website states that “Plastic is an important material for our economy. However, its growing production brings with it a series of challenges related to their production, use, and end-of-life that need to be addressed.” Arguably, plastic is not an important material for our economy as there are easy substitutes such as eco – friendly metal or bamboo straws and reusable metal bottles to reduce the individual plastic consumption. On a national scale, the UK government has unquestionably, positively contributed towards the reduction in plastic bags by implementing the five pence charge on them which has caused a massive decrease in consumption rate by some 71%. However, the government do need to introduce a scheme where plastic lid bottles are recycled as well. The government need to tackle the whole issue, not just half of it.
Supermarkets like Morrisons have also contributed highly towards this eco-friendly scheme by advancing on the anti-plastic bag movement. From April 30th, Morrisons will no longer be supplying the five pence plastic bag in order to promote the reusable plastic bags.
Globally, the Earth has many groups in place such as UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the MARPOL convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) which are in place to contribute to the reduction of the plastic plague, which our Earth is faced with. Article 194 is perhaps the most significant article in place as it states, “States shall take, individually or jointly as appropriate, all measures consistent with this Convention that are necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source, using for this purpose the best practicable means at their disposal and in accordance with their capabilities, and they shall endeavour to harmonize their policies in this connection.”
This is alongside MARPOL’s annex VI, which is the prevention of waste from ships stating, “Deals with different types of garbage and specifies the distances from land and the manner in which they may be disposed of; the most important feature of the Annex is the complete ban imposed on the disposal into the sea of all forms of plastics. “The nations who have signed the convention help reduce the problem, yet the main culprits: China and Indonesia, have contributed massive amounts of mismanaged plastic waste into the Pacific Ocean.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has an accumulation of plastic twice the size of Texas, which is three times the size of France and six times the size of the UK. However, this is only the buoyant plastic, which raises the issue of submerged, denser plastic, which extends the issues of plastic further as the cleaning up procedure becomes more complex. This happens on both sides of the Pacific as about 80% of the plastic debris in this area comes from land-based areas in North America and Asia. The remaining 20% comes from boaters, offshore rigs and large cargo ships, which have caused approximately 705,000 tonnes of fishing nets to be abandoned in the ocean and about 1.9 million micro plastic entities, are found per square mile.
Micro plastics are extremely dangerous towards the environment, particularly towards marine life, and social media across the global is in uproar. After the viral videos of a turtle’s shell being deformed because of plastic and a plastic straw stuck up a turtle’s nose, environmentalists everywhere turn their heads towards the governments of the world.
A Netflix documentary called ‘Plastic Oceans’ show the true reality of the extent of the issue. Turtles consuming plastic bags because they seem like Jellyfish to them and an Albatross’ stomach filled with plastic. George Orwell, who played a significant role in the modernist movement causing politics to thrive, wrote the politically socialist novel ‘Animal Farm’, which has a significant influence into saving the Earth. “Man serves the interests of no creature except himself” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Both of the above quotes from his novel are significant as it can be pinpointed that humans are at fault. Metaphorically, plastic is also addictive, it consumes our lives as it has become intergraded into everything and as the citizens of the world, we all need to come together as a global community to help save our planet.
Currently, the banning of plastic straws and cotton buds are on the agenda, for once, of many parliamentary debates as around about 8.5 billion plastic straws are used by the UK every year, causing Theresa May to encourages other Commonwealth leaders to tackle the issues of plastic. She can be quoted as saying, “it is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world”.
In July 2017, the USA took a promising step towards the reduction in use of micro plastics, as they were banned in personal hygiene products. However, this is only the American-produced products. However, brands such as Neutrogena can still be sold there, meaning the issues is not fully ruled out. Brands such as ‘Lush’ have a five-pot scheme that helps give the buyer the incentive to recycle.
Overall, I believe that even though many nations are contributing towards a better world, the global governance of the nation’s waste and the oceans needs further improvement to ensure that we reverse the process of our plastic diseased oceans. Furthermore, the HIC nations need to provide further support to help NIC and LIC nations to introduce better strategies and work in cohesion.
- https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/16/plastic-poverty-pollution-china-recycling-dead-zone – Author: Adam Minter – Published: 2014 – Accessed 23/04/18
- https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/14/waste-trade-china-recycling-rubbish – Author: Kara Moses – Published: 2013 – Accessed: 23/04/18
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43817287?intlink_from_url=http://www.bbc.co.uk /news/topics/c50znx8v4z7t/theresa-may&link_location=live-reporting-story – Author :unknown – Publication: 2018 – Accessed: 23/04/18