A major drive to stop plastic polluting the seas has been launched by the United Nations.
UN Environment intends to pressurise governments around the globe to reduce the use of plastics and the worse sources of plastic pollution, including the microplastics used by the cosmetics and personal care industries.
An estimated 9.5 million tonnes of plastic waste reaches the seas every year - equivalent to a full dustcart being emptied into the water at a rate of more than one every minute.
Up to 80 per cent of ocean pollution is plastic and it is estimated to cause at least $8 billion damage to marine ecosystems.
Huge numbers of marine animals ingest plastics, some of them starving to death because it fills their stomachs, while others are killed or injured by becoming ensnared in plastic debris. Some estimates suggest the weight of plastic pollution will out-weigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
In a report just published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 15 to 31 per cent of plastic reaching the oceans each year comes from microplastics, of which two-thirds are believed to come from washing synthetic textiles and from wearing tyres down by driving.
“This report is a real eye-opener, showing that plastic waste is not all there is to ocean plastics,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.
“Our daily activities, such as washing clothes and driving, significantly contribute to the pollution choking our oceans, with potentially disastrous effects on the rich diversity of life within them, and on human health.
“These findings indicate that we must look far beyond waste management if we are to address ocean pollution in its entirety. IUCN therefore calls on private sector leadership to undertake the necessary R&D [research and development] for the needed production shifts.”
In Bali, at a marine conference, the UN’s #CleanSeas campaign was launched with the aim of bringing dramatic reductions in plastic waste by 2022.
Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said, "It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans.
“Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop."
Up to 51 trillion particles of plastic - microplastics - pollute the seas, according to the UN, and are a major concern for wildlife. Despite being tiny they add up to 2 per cent of all marine plastic, the IUCN calculates.
Backing the UN campaign, Australian-Indonesian model and actress Nadya Hutagalung said: "On bathroom shelves around the world sit products that are destroying life in our oceans.
“Tiny pieces of plastic in our face scrubs and toothpastes, used to make products feel smooth, are washed away in drains to then fill the stomachs of marine animals who confuse it for food. No beauty product is worth destroying the world’s beautiful oceans.”
Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly said: "The Ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, yet we are poisoning it with millions of tonnes of plastic every year. The time has come to turn the tide on marine litter.”