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Plastic waste translates to $13 billion financial damages annually: UN

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The world loses $13 billion every year in financial damages to marine ecosystems, and that only includes conservative estimates of damages caused by plastic waste dumped into the ocean.

At the first ever United Nations Environment Assembly currently in progress in Nairobi, Kenya, the United Nations released its eleventh UN Environment Program (UNEP) Year Book, which says that plastic contaminating our bodies of water "threatens marine life, tourism, fisheries and business." The UNEP Year Book, which highlights 10 crucial world issues of the last 10 years, is supported by another report produced by the Plastic Disclosure Project and Trucost.

The report, titled "Valuing Plastic," makes the conclusion urging consumer goods companies to properly manage and disclose plastic use. More than 30% of business capital costs are spent on carbon emissions during the extraction of raw materials and processing them into plastic, and the largest downstream cost is marine pollution. However, the reports say the $13 billion is only a conservative estimate. Counting in other negative impacts such as air and water pollution due to incinerating plastic, the reports say that the total financial damage caused by plastic waste in the consumer goods industry could be as much as a whopping $75 billion.

Environmental scientists believe there is an unquantifiable amount of plastic waste littering both the surface and floor of the world's oceans. Since plastic waste was last addressed in the UNEP's 2011 Year Book, experts have grown even more concerned particularly about microplastic or small fragments of plastic not larger than 5 mm and usually found as microbeads in consumer products such as facial scrubs and toothpastes.

These small, barely visible pieces of plastic are ingested by marine organisms, including zooplankton, fish, mussels, worms and seabirds, and can potentially accumulate to deliver toxins throughout the food web. Scientists have also discovered microbe communities thriving on microplastics in the northern Atlantic sea, and they fear that these could facilitate the spread of harmful pathogens that could cause diseases.  

"These reports show that reducing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits: from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries - vital for many developing countries - to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks," says Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.  

Both reports recommend that companies monitor and report their plastic use and use efficient recycling innovations to minimize the impact of use of plastic in the production of consumer goods.

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