Coca-Cola, Walmart to cut plastic pollution in oceans

According to the United Nations environment agency, 70 per cent of the large plastic waste that floats on the seas comes from fishing. PHOTO: AFP

MONTREAL (AFP) - Coca-Cola, Walmart and other big multinationals pledged on Thursday (Sept 20)to help reduce plastic pollution in the world's oceans in support of a campaign by five of the G-7 industrialised nations.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy, along with the European Union, signed the Ocean Plastics Charter at a leaders' summit in Canada's Charlevoix region in June.

The United States and Japan abstained but non-G-7 nations Norway and Jamaica are also backing the plan to ensure 100 per cent of plastics are recyclable by 2030.

The nations aim to develop more viable alternatives to plastic packaging, to work towards a goal of all plastics being recycled and reused by 2040.

On the second day of a G7 ministerial meeting in Canada's Atlantic port city of Halifax, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced "a new partnership with businesses" to reduce plastics waste.

Backers include Loblaws, Walmart, Nestle Canada, IKEA, Dow Chemicals, the Coca-Cola Company, BASF Canada and A&W Canada.

Unilever also announced that it was launching a non-profit entity to reduce consumer and business waste, while Volvo upped its target to make 25 per cent of the plastics in its cars recyclable by 2025.

The G-7 group of the world's major economies are also looking to tackle a growing source of marine pollution: lost fishing nets and gear, which account for 70 per cent of plastic waste floating on the surface of the sea, Canada's Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.

About 640,000 tonnes of nets and other fishing gear are discarded in the oceans each year, killing an estimated 136,000 seals, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, small whales and other seabirds, according to the World Animal Protection group.

"This is a really big problem," Wilkinson told AFP from the Halifax talks.

"There is a consensus among G-7 countries that this is a very important issue... and there is a clear commitment to address it," he said.

According to the United Nations environment agency, 70 per cent of the large plastic waste that floats on the seas comes from fishing.

Josey Kitson, executive director of World Animal Protection, called the plastic debris "death traps" for many seabirds, fish and marine mammals, but expressed hope that the G7 will address the problem.

Wilkinson said G7 and other governments represented at the Halifax meeting are exploring fixes such as incentives for fishers to reuse gear and dispose of aging nets properly.

The aim is "to actually clean it up (but also) not discharge it in the first place," he said.

The G-7 is also looking at ways of tracking discarded gear back to vessels in order to identify polluters.

Although no timetable has been set, the G-7 ministers have agreed to "discuss this issue again" at the Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi in November, Wilkinson said.

Meanwhile in the United States, restaurants in California will soon stop providing plastic straws unless customers explicitly ask for them, under a new law signed on Thursday by the state's environment-friendly governor.

Governor Jerry Brown said he hoped the measure - which goes into effect next year and is the first of its kind nationwide - would spur people to "pause and think" about an alternative before requesting a straw.

"It is a very small step to make a customer who wants a plastic straw ask for it," Brown said in a statement.

"But one thing is clear - we must find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate single-use plastic products," added the governor, a fierce environmentalist who has been a leading US voice in the battle to fight climate change.

Under the new law, restaurants that don't comply will get two warnings before being fined a maximum of US$300 a year.

Brown warned that plastics in all forms were "choking our planet" and pointed to the huge amount of plastic products dumped into the oceans every year, killing off marine life.

"Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences," he said.

The new law comes amid increased awareness worldwide about the global plastic waste crisis.

The European Union in May proposed a bloc-wide ban on single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery and cotton buds while urging the collection of most plastic drink bottles by 2025.

France plans to introduce a penalty system next year that would increase the costs of consumer goods made of plastic, including plates, cups and utensils.

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