Global efforts to clean oceans have failed

EU and U.N. efforts to clean the polluted oceans of the world have failed, a leaked document from the German government indicated.

Most of what people eat, drink or use comes packaged in petroleum-based plastic. Each year, plastic makers produce 240 million tons of the material. Some of the plastic is recycled, most is burned or buried in landfills but an increasing amount ends up polluting oceans.

More than 6 million tons of plastic wash into the seas each year, floating on the surface or trapped below the surface. The U.N. Environment Program says that, on average, around 18,000 visible plastic parts are floating on a square kilometer of ocean.

The problem is that plastics are designed to last forever. While the floating plastic, over the years, break into increasingly smaller particles, it takes several hundred years for them to disappear.

Sea birds and fish, mistaking the plastic for food, die because the material clogs their intestines. In the North Sea, 90 percent of sea birds have eaten plastic, scientists say.

The plastics not only threaten marine life, they will eventually hurt humans. Fish eating the potentially toxic plastics end up in the human food chain, threatening human health.

European Union and United Nations for years have tried to clean up the world’s oceans. The United Nations in 1973 agreed to a ocean protection treaty and has tightened those regulations six times since. Brussels in 2001 urged all member states to force ships to dispose of trash in port and not at sea.

But international efforts to clean up the seas have failed, a confidential document by the German government obtained by the online version of German news magazine Der Spiegel concluded.

Since 1988, it’s illegal to dispose ship waste in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, two of the world’s most polluted oceans. Despite that, the situation there “has not improved,” Spiegel Online quotes the government document. Some 20,000 tons of trash are thrown into the North Sea each year. International agreements to reverse this trend are “not successful.”

The European Union declared in 2008 that it wants to significantly improve the situation of Europe’s oceans by 2020, a target the German government experts call “unrealistic.”

Environment experts have long called for concrete actions instead of political road maps.

A free-of-charge waste disposal program for Europe’s ports and harsh fines for those who keep throwing their trash into the water could bring quick improvement.