Discarded plastic is one of the biggest environmental threats facing the planet, the UN said in a report on Tuesday to mark World Environment Day.
The UN report, Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability, said rules limiting the use of plastic bags have helped in places such as Morocco, Rwanda, and parts of China – sometimes significantly.
Elsewhere, however, things have not gone well and urgent action is needed. The report noted, by some estimates, as many as five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.
“Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech. “Microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy.
“If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish.”
Globally, eight million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, according to the UN Environment Programme.
A ban on disposable plastics in India’s capital New Delhi has had only limited impact “because of poor enforcement”, the report said.
“Plastic pollution is a huge issue everywhere,” the UN’s environment chief Erik Solheim told The Associated Press. “The problem is big but the ability to change is also big.”
He praised India for its growing focus on environmental protection, but also noted while travelling the country he’d seen some of the most scenic places “destroyed by plastic pollution”.
India produces more than 62 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, according to local reports, of which only 43 million tonnes is collected.
The UN made a series of recommendations to make plastics bans more effective, from encouraging more cooperation from businesses to offering incentives.