Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Plastic flow: can land-based pollution be stopped?

Some estimates suggest that at current rates, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050 Some estimates suggest that at current rates, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050
29 Jul
2017
Asian countries are pledging to reduce the amount of land-based marine pollution, especially that flowing down their larger rivers

Goal 14 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals pledges to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.’

Accordingly, June’s UN Ocean Conference in New York focused on adopting a universal ‘Call to Action’ to achieve such a pledge, compiling a list of 1,380 varying voluntary commitments made by the 178 UN members in attendance, generally focusing on such targets as protecting coastal ecosystems, addressing illegal fishing, reducing underwater noise, and – crucially – eliminating sources of land-based, plastic marine pollution. Such pollution is not created equally, with a significant proportion believed to emanate from a select number of large rivers, primarily in Asia. ‘Plastic pollution of rivers is related to human settlement,’ explains Dr Christian Schmidt, from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany. ‘It is not necessarily bad waste management that makes rivers such as the Yangtze deliver a lot of plastic, but rather the sheer amount of people that live in the catchment.’

Therefore, voluntary commitments by some of the worst offenders included promises to stop plastic entering those few rivers which transport waste plastic downstream to the ocean. Thailand, for example, pledged to implement proper waste disposal and encourage environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic packaging as part of its recent 20-year pollution management strategy. Indonesia pledged to reduce plastic waste by 70 per cent by 2025, while India highlighted Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Namami Gange’ scheme, which aims to eradicate waste from the Ganges River.

However, the issue, as Schmidt explains, is that very little is known about what happens to plastic dumped into rivers regarding its fragmentation during transit, and how long it actually takes to reach the mouth. ‘If we have already loaded our river sediments and banks with plastic debris,’ he adds, ‘this might be a long-term source for plastic in the oceans, even if we manage to drastically reduce the release of plastic into the environment.’

This was published in the August 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…

Polar

Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…

Wildlife

A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids…

Wildlife

Bonnethead sharks, the second smallest member of the hammerhead family,…

Nature

There’s more than enough plastic in the world. That’s why,…

Wildlife

The recent discovery of more than 200 million termite mounds…