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Behavioral change key to future of sustainability, advises GPCA

Dubai, United Arab Emirates; June 8, 2016: A concerted and committed effort at the community level is necessary to combat the critical problem of litter in the desert and marine environments of the GCC, said the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA), on the occasion of World Oceans Day, a United Nations recognized event commemorated each year on June 8.

“The gift of development brings with it population growth and a rise in consumption of resources, products and services. Unfortunately, with this rapid progress, there has also been an increase in litter in our environment,” said Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, Secretary General, GPCA. “Here in the region, we are blessed with visionary thinkers who have a keen focus on the longevity of the environment. True sustainability will only occur when all stakeholders—government, business and even the general public—join hands to find solutions. There has been excellent progress in implementing sustainability in business operations and energy. The next step in combatting pollution will involve a change of habits amongst people in better managing waste.”

Studies have shown that an estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, which is equivalent to one million plastic bags a minute. At the individual level, each consumer uses up to 100 plastic bags a month.

“Plastic, a petrochemical product, is strong and water resistant. Plastic materials are used in everything from packaging food to protecting fragile electronic products. And because they are lightweight, they are a key facet of sustainability. For example, water in a plastic bottle is lighter than water in a glass bottle, so transporting this over long distances requires less energy,” said Dr. Al-Sadoun. “Unfortunately, people dispose of plastic rather indiscriminately, leading to polluted desert environments, rivers and seas.”

The GPCA’s position is shared by global organizations: In May 2016, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)—the periodic meeting for the United Nations Environment Programme— approved a resolution titled “Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics.” The subsequent UNEA resolution stated the prevention and environmentally sound management of waste, is the key to combating marine pollution.

“The recent advent of ‘oxo- biodegradable plastic bags’ is misleading, as consumers think that these products can be disposed into the environment. However, these bags have ingredients that interfere with the recycling process of plastics when they eventually fragment,” explained Dr. Al-Sadoun. “Additionally, there are legal proceedings against manufacturers in Italy and Australia since 2010, as public organizations have come to understand that these so called degradable plastics are not the ideal solution.”

Additionally, an alliance of plastics associations  worldwide, of which GPCA is a member, recently announced that there are 260 projects planned, underway or completed as part of the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter (Global Declaration), a public commitment by the global plastics industry to tackle plastic in the marine environment.

“The plastics industry has been demonized, perhaps unfairly, as the root cause of the problem. In reality, the plastics industry has put in a lot of effort to find solutions,” concluded Dr. Al-Sadoun. “Litter is not the fault of plastic bags, as these are inanimate objects. Litter, ultimately, is a waste management problem. Retailers will have to play their part by focusing on providing only reusable heavyweight plastics bags in grocery shops. Charges for carrier bags will also go a long way to reduce the unnecessary use of bags. But the best solution will involve the buy-in—that is, consistent behavioral change involving reducing, reusing and recycling plastic — from millions of individuals around the world.”

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