Honolulu, HA march 28, 2011 (IPS)
Every day billions of plastic bags and bottles are discarded, and every day, millions of these become plastic pollution, fouling the oceans and endangering marine life.
No one wants this but there is wide disagreement about how to stop it.
On recent trips to remote islands in the Pacific, Jean-Michel Cousteau found miles and miles of plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, television tubes, spray cans, broken toys, and thousands of other pieces of plastic on the beaches and thousands of tonnes of derlict fishing nets.
“We are using the oceans as a universal sewer,” he told 440 participants from the food sectors, environmental organizations, scientists and policy makers in addition to the plastics manufacturing representatives at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference.
“Humanity is risking its own health and survival in treating the oceans this way,” Cousteau said. “The oceans are the source of life on our planet. Through evaporation, oceans are the most important source of fresh water while phytoplankton generates at least half the oxygen we breathe.”
“No one is away from the ocean. We are all intimately connected by every breath we take,” he said.
Cousteau implored participants to collaborate and come up with a set of actions to reduce the amount of plastics and marine debris that are getting into the oceans.
California nearly became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags, but a multi-million-dollar lobby effort by the plastics industry killed the proposed legislation as it came to a final vote. “The American Chemical Company (ACC) is now spending more millions on law suits to prevent towns and cities from instituting local plastic bag bans,” claimed Kristen James from a local environmental group.
However, some cities such as Los Angeles are instituting local bans, with about 10 percent of California to be bag free by 2012.
“The ACC is always pushing education and recycling, but that is not nearly enough,” James said.
San Francisco is also facing resistance from the American Chemical Council.
When IPS asked Steve Russell, the vice president of the ACC why his industry spent millions on promoting plastic bags, Russell replied:
“Its a material choice that the consumer makes, it is not about single use.”
When IPS pointed out that plastic bags killed seabirds, turtles and fish and that the plastics industry should replace bags with another choice, Russell gave a similar answer.
Richard Thompson, a marine biologist from Plymouth, England, said:
“It is a no-brainer. We have to stop putting plastic in the sea.”
Jean-Michel Cousteau expressed a similar sentiment. “Now that we know, we simply have to change.” he concluded.