By Alessandra Borrello and Jonas Byström
An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic ends up as waste in the oceans each year. If we want to stop this pollution, we shouldn’t focus on the oceans.
To save the seas, we need to change our work on land.
Every day, plastics are thrown or washed into streets, backyards, rivers, beaches and coastal areas all over the world. A lot of this waste ends up in the oceans. It also clogs drains and increases flooding in many cities, creating a breeding ground for disease-bearing insects and rodents.
One key problem is that people buy too many single-use plastics such as bags, bottles and straws, and they throw them away after a short time. There is a simple fix to this problem: stop buying and using such products and packaging. There is no simple fix to the other problem: improving the poor waste collection and disposal methods in many parts of the world. Both of these problems send a lot of plastic into the seas.
About 40% of the plastic that ends up in the oceans comes from trash discarded in or near rivers by the two billion people who lack waste collection services. Of all the plastic arriving in the oceans from rivers, 90% comes from just 10 rivers, mainly in Africa and Asia. Fast population growth and rapid urbanisation in many cities around the world, particularly in coastal areas, add to the plastics problem.
The need to conserve the oceans is one the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Over the past few years, the European Investment Bank and other development institutions have been working hard to safeguard the seas and help the world meet these goals.
After all, investments in the oceans should not be an afterthought. Oceans cover nearly two-thirds of our planet. We rely on them for water, food, climate and oxygen. Nearly half the population depends directly on the seas for their livelihoods. Oceans are a source of renewable energy, natural resources and new ingredients for plant, animal and medical care.