During the last decades the world has witnessed an extreme increase in the production of plastic; its demand and its presence in our day to day, is due to the fact that it is a strong, light, durable, cheap, convenient and flexible material, which offers us endless comforts. However, the millions of tons of plastic that have been produced in recent years are becoming garbage, flooding our rivers and oceans at an unprecedented rate and causing irreparable damage to birds, fish, and entire ecosystems. But the problem is not only the enormous amount of plastic that is becoming waste, but this material is also accelerating climate change, since it originates as fossil fuel and emits greenhouse gases at every stage of its life cycle. In addition, plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so its impact on the environment lasts for long periods of time.

For these reasons it is imperative to reduce the production and use of plastics globally. Although many people have already become aware of the damage caused by plastics, especially single-use plastics, our efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle are not sufficient to curb the mass production of this material and its impact on the environment. The following figures help us understand the magnitude of this problem:

  • Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans.
  • There are more microplastics in the ocean than stars in the Milky Way.
  • In one year, the amount of plastic produced weighs almost as much as all of humanity.
  • 91% of the total plastic produced is not recycled, and most of it ends up in seas, rivers, and landfills.

These figures are a clear indication that we need to strengthen the fight against single-use plastics, and keep plastic pollution as one of the biggest challenges to be tackled within the environmental crisis. In my time as President of the United Nations General Assembly, we succeeded eliminating the use of single-use plastics in the offices of the UN building. In addition, as President of the UN General Assembly we launched a global campaign against single-use plastics that reached more than 400,000 young people around the world. As part of the campaign, we supported a mass concert initiative, “‘Play it Out’, in partnership with the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda and Norway, as well as UN Environment, UNOPS, The Krim Group (TKG), Lonely Whale and National Geographic to help raise awareness about the fight against plastics. Such initiatives are essential to raise awareness among civil society about the severity of the crisis. However, it is not enough to address the magnitude of plastic pollution the world is facing.

But if you ask me, I think there is hope. Especially thanks to the technological advances that have been designed in recent years to combat major environmental problems. One example of these advances is Ocean Cleanup, an environmental engineering non-governmental organization, which seeks to address the problem of environmental pollution by developing advanced technology to extract the plastic that invades our oceans and affects countless marine species and habitats. Recently, a cleaning device created by the Ocean Cleanup organization returned from the Pacific Garbage Patch with its first load of plastic. This symbolizes a major breakthrough in international efforts to combat climate change. I believe we should all support organizations like this one, which seek to address the environmental emergency through technological innovation. Read more about Ocean Cleanup through this link and join the fight against plastic pollution.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa

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