10 June 2018 | 4 minutes.

Bad plastics, good plastics


Erik Solheim
Former Head of UN Environment

Erik Solheim, Former Head of UN Environment

An unfortunate consequence of our campaigning against the tide of plastic pollution is that some think the United Nations has decided to go to war with the plastics industry. That could not be further from the truth.

The fact is that plastics are a miracle material and could even be the very thing that saves humanity from catastrophic climate change. The problem in our oceans isn’t plastics, it’s what we do with them. Over the years, we got lazy – creating an infinite number of single-use, throwaway items like bags, drinking straws or pointless packaging. These items are often used for just a few seconds, and then cast away indefinitely to take up space in a landfill or float around the oceans.

Plastic particles have been found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth. Lumps of polystyrene have been seen floating amid the icebergs, and starved whales have washed up in Spain and Norway with their digestive systems crippled by plastic bags. At the current rate, we’re turning the seas into a plastic soup, although for some tidal convergence zones that is already the case.

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