Experts at the University of East Anglia have warned of the dangers of plastic pollution ahead of a UN meeting on the topic.
The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, takes place from May 29 – June 23, in Paris.
Prof Richard Fordham, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, is an author on a recent report which estimates the harm of plastics to human health.
The report is the first comprehensive review of plastics harm in all its manifestations, including greenhouse gases. Prof Fordham and collaborators focussed on the evidence-base of harm to human health and estimated the costs, in billions of dollars globally, as well as by region.
The findings were presented to the World Health Organisation last month.
He said: “Global intervention against the plastic crisis is needed now because the costs of failure to act will be immense.”
“Plastics continue to increase in their pervasiveness despite the harms and dangers recognised in the new Minderoo Report and many other scientific reports.
“It seems that modern economies find it hard to replace them with viable options despite consumers expressing grave concerns at their ubiquitous use.
“Plastics are harmful in most forms and at every step of their 'life cycle' and present difficulties from their basic production to their disposal.
“Studies have confirmed the human costs in premature deaths. Plastics also pose a number of other risks to humans and biodiversity, and they contribute to global warming with CO2 as a by-product – risking the ability of the planet to sustain life, including ours.
“The Anthropocene era will be defined in the future by a layer of plastics in rock sedimentation that will persist long after other signs of our human civilisation have disappeared,” he added.
Prof Andrew Mayes, from UEA’s School of Chemistry, was part of an international team that found that microplastics in the air are polluting the most remote places on earth.
He also developed a new way of detecting microplastics in water, which was used to find microplastics in bottled water around the world. This research led to a WHO report, which called for more research into microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.
He said: “Microplastics are small plastic particles, which come from a variety of sources including cosmetics, clothing, industrial processes, packaging materials and degradation of larger plastic items.
“They are in the environment all around us – and they’re accumulating. They’re in the foods and drinks we consume, and the air we breathe.
“We urgently need to do more to reduce our use of plastic, and especially single-use plastics. At the very least, a plastic bottle deposit scheme should be a routine aspect of our shopping culture by now to ensure that the13 billion bottles being disposed of annually remain in an effective circular plastic economy and do not leak out into the environment.”