The biggest advanced economies plan to urge the world to clean up plastic shopping bags and bottles clogging oceans, prodded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Germany will put the cleanup on the agenda of the Group of Seven nations for the first time at the G-7’s summit in June in the Bavarian Alps, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said in an interview. The goal is to encourage countries to reduce waste from plastic and tiny beads added to body scrubs and toothpastes that pollute the sea and kill marine life.
The ecological push is among the first indications of Germany’s themes for the global economic summit. Merkel, who served as environment minister in the 1990s, plans to host President Barack Obama and government leaders from Japan, the U.K., Canada, France and Italy at Schloss Elmau, a 100-year-old spa hotel, on June 7-8.
“So far no one has taken up the issue internationally, and we want to change that,” Hendricks said in Berlin. “Plastic waste is a huge problem for wildlife conservation. Animals are literally starving with a stomach full of plastic.”
Drifting as far as the polar regions, the waste accumulates at sea in huge swirls with dead fish, marine mammals and birds that get snared. One trash vortex in the North Pacific that’s about as big as Texas carries an estimated six kilograms (13 pounds) of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, according to Greenpeace.
Decades of pollution mean that “the ocean economy is already faltering,” the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Boston Consulting Group said in a report Thursday. “If the ocean were a country it would have the seventh-largest economy in the world.”
Merkel, whose electoral district lies on the Baltic, plans to brief a conference of scientists in Berlin on her summit goals on Wednesday. As a first step, Germany will ask its G-7 partners to agree to put plastic sea waste on the agenda of the United Nations, Hendricks said in the interview last week.
Plastic waste causes $13 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year, according to the UN Environment Program. California and cities including Chicago, Seattle and Portland have banned single-use plastic bags.
The European Union wants to reduce use of plastic bags to 40 per person in 2025 from 176 bags in 2010. Japan intends to pursue work on the topic when it presides over the G-7 next year, Hendricks said.
Microplastics from consumer products, some of them as small as a pencil tip, are a particular danger to marine animals such as fish, mussels and plankton that ingest them and either choke or pass the toxins on to larger fish and eventually to humans.
Banning microplastics in consumer products would help, Hendricks said. “In the medium term, it’s not impossible,” she said.