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News > Science and Tech

United Nations: Tons of Plastic Waste from United States, Asia Harming Galapagos Islands

  • Plastic pollution washed onshore Galapagos Island.

    Plastic pollution washed onshore Galapagos Island. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 March 2018

U.N. official Leo Heileman issued a call to "urgently change our consumption and production patterns to stop this torrent of pollution."

Tons of plastic trash from Asia, the United States, and South America have reached Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, home to over 2,000 species that exist nowhere else in the globe.

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a call from Galapagos to fight against the pollution of the seas by plastic trash. Scientists estimate 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year.  

“It is alarming that these plastics have invaded places as remote and pristine as the Galapagos, we must urgently change our consumption and production patterns to stop this torrent of contamination… We have to do this for the wellbeing of all species, including our own,” Leo Heilman, UNEP’s regional director said.

Plastic pollution in the oceans has been linked to the rising deaths of seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Exposed to the sun plastic objects like bags, straws, and bottles break down into micrometer-sized particles that are mistaken for food by these animals. Furthermore, scientists have proven to be a disease agent for already vulnerable coral reefs.

In the last few years, authorities have registered an “overwhelming” quantity of plastic waste in the shores of the Galapagos islands dragged by the ocean's tides.

Industrial ecologist Roland Geyer estimates humans have produced 9.1 billion tons of plastic, of which 5.4 billion tons have been discarded in landfills or the environment. Plastic is a very durable material but is used mostly in packaging which means most of it is not used for a very long time but rather discarded.  

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