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No sea can swallow that anymore: Our oceans are sinking in plastic waste

About 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water. But today there are hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic waste floating in every square kilometer of the ocean. Seabirds die in agony on parts of their cell phones in their stomachs, turtles hold plastic bags for jellyfish and fish mistake tiny plastic particles for plankton.

Beaches on uninhabited islands are practically drowning in trash. And right on our doorstep, for example in the North Sea, plastic waste is an omnipresent danger for fish, birds and marine mammals. Last but not least, small plastic particles, so-calledMicroplastics and environmentally harmful substancescontained in plastic or enriched in it via the fishalso in the human food chain reach. But how does all this garbage get into the sea?

Plastic does not belong in the environment

Three quarters of the litter in the ocean is made of plastic, Specifically, 4.8 - 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. This plastic is a growing problem and kills tens of thousands of animals every year. Because up tocomplete decomposition of plastic canhundreds to thousands of years pass away. Until then, it just disintegrates into smaller and smaller particles. These small, solid and water-insoluble plastic particles are less than 5mm in sizeMicroplasticscalled. When we walk barefoot along a beach today, we usually have many fine microplastic particles under our feet in addition to the grains of sand. It is precisely these small particles that are a major problem in the sea because marine animals mistake them for food such as plankton.

Microplastic particles easily get into the bodies of marine animals and can also be absorbed into the human organism through their consumption. What effects this can have has not yet been researched. But one thing is certain: plastic often also containsAdditives such as plasticizers and flame retardantsthat harm marine life and can also reach humans through the food chain.

Microplastics enter the environment and water bodies from various sources. This is how the little ones arePlastic particles cosmetic products, such as B. Peeling, added. However, microplastics can also result from abrasion of plastic materials, such as B. tire wear or when washing synthetic textiles such as polyester. In this way, microplastics can find their way into rivers and seas or even the soil via wastewater. In Germany, the abrasion of car tires is currently rated as the largest source of microplastics entering the environment. But the decay of larger plastic parts floating in the ocean is also an important source of entry into the oceans.

The garbage in our oceans consists of plastic bags, PET bottles, lighters, cigarette butts, disposable razors and the like. Unfortunately the colorful onesPlastic parts too often with food mistaken. Plastic parts have been found to have aEmit odor that birds perceive as the smell of food. It is increasingly common to find carcasses of sea birds with plastic parts in their stomachs.

The animals suffocate, become fatally constipated or starve to death with a full stomach. The stomach contents of dead fulmar birds is now recognized evidence of the pollution of our seas. Because fulmars are deep-sea birds - what they eat comes from the sea. During an investigation, scientists found93 percent of the fulmars have plastic parts in their stomachs. It is estimated that by 2050 almost every sea bird will have plastic parts in their stomachs if this trend continues.

But not just sea birds are concerned, ratheralso marine mammals and fish. The leatherback turtle, for example, mainly eats jellyfish. Again and again she confuses plastic bags floating in the water with her favorite meal. And often will tooWhales found with stomachs filled with plastic. Another problem is that animals often get caught in the garbage and die in agony in this way.

Also abandoned fishing nets, so-calledGhost nets, are increasingly becoming a deadly trap for many sea creatures.Ghost nets can fish indefinitely, so to speak. They also often get caught in coral reefs and are not only a threat to fish and marine mammals, but also damage the reef structure.

Tourism and shipping also affected

Besides the environmental damageCertain sectors of the economy also suffer under the plastic garbage. For manyBeach resorts clearing away plastic rubbish every morning is now a fixed ritual. The are created for the Asia-Pacific region alonetourism branch annual cost of $ 622 million. Also theshipping is affected when nets get caught in screws or plastic waste gets into intake sockets. TheOverall economic damage caused by plastic waste in the oceans is estimated at around 13 billion euros annually. Economic costs that are not borne by the polluter.

Causes and possible solutions

In addition to plastic from shipping or fishingPlastic was introduced into the oceans mainly from land via rivers. This mainly happens in countries where waste collection does not work properly. The countries of Southeast Asia are a focal point. Even if it is good when fishermen bring plastic waste caught with them back to shore or rubbish is collected on the beach: The most important thing is to avoid plastic packaging and avoid letting it get into the environment in the first place. To do this, however, waste management in the countries concerned must function much better.

Often, however, there is not enough money to collect, sort and further treat the rubbish, for example through recycling.In Germany, companies that sell packaged goods pay a license fee on packaging. This is how we finance the collection and recycling systems. In most other countries this is not yet the case. That is why it is now important that companies in the sectors concerned, such as B. theConsumer goods industry to contribute to the disposal costs of their packaging. At the same time, international agreements and national laws in the respective countries must create a legal framework for a functioning circular economy.

Since May 9, 2019 theWWF member of the PREVENT Waste Alliance. The alliance is a partnership that brings together actors from business, science, civil society and public institutions such as the Federal Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation.

The main aim here is to coordinate projects that work on solutions to the plastic waste problem internationally. Further information is available on this website:

Plastic waste on German coasts

German islands are also suffering from the garbage problem. In Mellum near Wilhelmshaven there is a lot of washed up rubbish on the beach. The North Sea island is not inhabited and there is no tourism. Rubbish is neither generated nor disposed of on Mellum. That is why the island and its beach are a clear indicator of the pollution of the North Sea - an indicator that already shows over 700 pieces of garbage on 100 meters of beach. This garbage is regularly collected on a voluntary basis by the Nature Conservation and Research Association Mellumrat e.V.

TheAbout 80 percent of the debris on Mellum Beach is made of plastic. Here you will find plastic cups, bottles, styrofoam and, for example, balloon strings in which seabirds can get tangled. As small as the island of Mellum is, it shows the extent of the litter problem in our seas.

Even if large amounts of plastic waste do not end up in the sea via the rivers in Germany, we should do our part ourselves against the packaging flood. Because according to current figures from the Federal Environment Agencythe amount of packaging in Germany is steadily increasing. The reasons for this include disposable packaging for food that is consumed immediately, such as coffee-to-go cups, the switch to smaller packaging units and the increasing online trade. Even if most of the waste in Germany is collected and processed by a functioning system, energy and raw materials are consumed in the manufacture of packaging. In addition, Germany exports large amounts of plastic waste to other countries with often poorer waste management systems (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey) and some of the waste is not recycled but ends up in the environment.

  • Avoid You unnecessary packaging. Separate the garbage properly, as this makes sorting and recycling easier. There are now also shops that offer goods free of packaging. Our tips for avoiding plastic >>>
  • Dispense On cosmetics with microplastic particles and use alternatives such as B. certified natural cosmetics. (BUND purchasing guide for microplastics)
  • Use Keep products or clothing as long as possible before properly disposing of them.
  • To washAlways put your clothes in a full washing machine. This is not only good for the energy balance, but can also reduce the number of microplastic particles.
  • Participate Take part in rubbish collections. In many places and cities there are calls for people to take part in the removal of rubbish from the countryside.

The garbage in the seas is aglobal problem and we must act now to resolve it. But it will not work without a strict catalog of measures. Therefore In addition to business, industry and citizens, politics is also in demand - in order to create new guidelines and incentives, but also to pursue compliance with existing laws more consistently.Regional and global efforts are requiredto reduce the pollution of our seas. This also requires constant, active cooperation between the responsible authorities around the world.

1. Avoid and recycle plastic waste

Every single consumer can do his part to save our seas, for example byAvoid plastic packaging as much as possibleUses bags multiple times andRefill packs used that have less additional outer packaging than the original.

However, so that not only environmentally conscious consumers do their part to protect our oceans, political measures are required thatCurb the use of single-use products -about byParticipation of the responsible companies in the disposal costs ora worldwide, legally binding convention against plastic waste in the seas. Of course, the industry is also in demand, first and foremost the packaging industry.

But not only packaging, the products themselves should also be checked for the need for plastic components and for their recyclability. We needStricter regulations for environmentally compatible product and packaging design and incentives and regulations for reuse and recycling. Dangerous additives contained in plastic that can accumulate in the food chain must be banned completely. Microplastic particles have no place in products that end up in our wastewater, such as cosmetics.

2. Research, monitoring and education

Many things, such as the entry paths of microplastics into water, have not yet been precisely researched. More research is needed here. On the other hand, many causes of plastic waste entering the oceans are known. Therefore mayThe need for research cannot be used as an argument to wait with concrete measures to reduce the discharge of litter into the oceans. In order to check how effective the measures introduced are, the WWF calls for a worldwide andAs comprehensive environmental monitoring as possible. Possible consequences of microplastics in the food chain also need to be investigated. But also thatPublic awareness has to change. The WWF advocates aextensive educational work a.

3. Ship garbage may no longer end up in the sea

On the one hand, this requires the consistent enforcement of existing international obligations and, on the other hand, an improvement in case law.The WWF demands that in future no more ship waste may be disposed of on the water. At the moment, the ban in many places only affects plastic waste. Illegal disposal must be punished much more severely. In addition, ships should be able to dispose of their garbage on land as easily as possible so that they are not even tempted to illegally dump it into the sea. The WWF calls for thisProvision of garbage collection points for maritime shipping and higher penalties for nets lost or dumped at sea.

4. Strategies and initiatives for the recovery of marine litter

The WWF calls for oneinternationally coordinated strategy for garbage recoveryfrom the sea. One possibility are so-called “Fishing for litter” initiatives, which involve the fishing industry in cleaning up our seas. Fishermen shouldEarned equipment and a reward for bringing marine litter to shoreso that they don't accidentally throw “fished” rubbish back into the sea and consciously collect floating rubbish.

There are also professional attempts to remove large areas of garbage in the sea. These projects involve some risks, such as fish and other sea creatures getting caught in the collection nets or the machines used polluting the environment through their CO2 emissions.

Basically, it is always preferable not to let any garbage get into the oceans, so that "fishing off garbage" should be superfluous. But this is only possible if packaging and other single-use products are consistently avoided and waste management is improved worldwide.

Support the WWF in the fight against the plastic flood

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