Nearly Every Country In The World Just Vowed To Reduce Plastic Pollution
Last week, world leaders wrapped things up at the Basel Convention—a two-week gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, that covers how we can clean up the planet for the sake of human health.
The 187 countries in attendance landed on some important decisions: They agreed to ban the use of harmful industrial chemicals like PFOA (which has been found in drinking water supplies around the world and is linked to hormone disruption) and called for more regulation on plastic pollution for the sake of our oceans.
"Governments this week amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally binding framework which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, whilst also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment," a conference news release reads.
Let's break down what that will look like in practice: Reading through the convention's meeting documents, it's clear that each individual country will decide how to clean up its own plastic pollution, though some overarching recommendations were put into place: Innovating ways to reduce plastic waste leakage, replacing single-use plastic with reusable options, holding plastic producers accountable for cleanup initiatives, and launching more educational campaigns about the threat of plastic pollution were all listed as effective strategies.
Susan Ruffo, a pollution expert from the Ocean Conservancy, applauds the fact that the framework addresses the underlying cause of the 100 million tons of marine plastic pollution in our oceans: broken waste management and recycling systems on land.
"We hope that by increasing plastic waste transparency with an eye toward safety and sustainability, the amendment will encourage communities everywhere to develop sustainable, locally appropriate solutions to manage their waste and keep plastics out of the ocean," she said in a statement. "The ocean plastic crisis requires action by all of us."
It really is a crisis at this point. Just this week, an explorer named Victor Vescovo set a new record for the deepest underwater dive and found—you guessed it—plastic at the end of his voyage. In the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, 7 miles underground, there was a plastic bag.
The pervasiveness of plastic in our waters isn't just dangerous to fish, as shown in a study Macquarie University released this week. It turns out, 10 percent of the oxygen humans breathe comes from a type of ocean bacteria that is also threatened by this pollution.
Of the 10 countries sending the most plastic to oceans, the United States is the only one that hasn't formally signed onto the Basel Convention and therefore won't be accountable to this new framework. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be reducing plastic waste in this country too. Do your part by avoiding single-use plastic, recycling plastic properly when you do need to use it, and getting involved in cleanups in your community.