Marking World Environment Day, the United Nations on Tuesday named plastic one of the biggest environmental threats facing the world.
The report, Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability, said while government regulation on the use of plastic has made some impact on reducing waste, it is not enough, and more urgent action is needed.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech. “Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy.”
“From remote islands to the Arctic, nowhere is untouched. If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish,” he said.
The report noted that by some estimates, as many as 5 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
While acknowledging that combating plastic waste is different for every country, the U.N. report suggested 10 universal steps that policymakers can follow, including use of more eco-friendly alternatives to plastics and the promotion of reusable products.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the Earth’s oceans every year, which adds to the estimated 150 million metric tons already in the marine environment.
A 2017 report by the Ocean Conservancy said China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are dumping more plastic than the rest of the world combined.
But the advocacy group warned that the problem is not Asia's alone. It noted the United States tosses out more than 33 million tons of plastic, of which less than 10 percent is recycled.
For years, environmentalists have warned of the deadly effect plastic trash has on marine wildlife. This week, a pilot whale died in Thailand after struggling for five days to stay alive. Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources announced that the whale had 80 plastic bags lodged in its stomach.
A Thai marine official said the whale, which normally feeds on squid, probably mistook the floating debris for food.