Strong, lightweight plastics are amazing materials that contribute to sustainability by helping to reduce energy use, waste and greenhouse gas emissions. But when plastics end up as ocean litter, their full sustainability benefits aren’t realized. No one wants to see trash of any kind in our environment. Plastics makers realize that ocean litter is a major, global problem and are committed to providing solutions. That’s why we’re pleased to partner in the global release of the Ocean Conservancy’s Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean – a first-of-its-kind analysis conducted with the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, that evaluates specific land-based solutions for plastic waste in the ocean.
Pinpointing the Origins of Waste
Recent research by Dr. Jenna Jembeck published in Science Magazine estimated that roughly 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year and that 57% of it originates in five countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand). These are rapidly developing economies (a good thing!) in areas where waste management infrastructure hasn’t yet caught up to a growing population’s ability to consume more goods. Similar factors could easily give rise to these conditions in other regions (e.g., Brazil, India or countries in Africa). Stemming the Tide builds on these findings by highlighting solutions to contain waste—in essence to stop the “leakage” at the source. Solutions like, containing landfill waste, stopping illegal dumping, increasing recycling, and incorporating energy recovery technologies, such as gasification and pyrolysis, are featured as possibilities for change. From the plastics industry’s perspective, Stemming the Tide is a welcome resource that helps us understand and prioritize solutions.
Global Plastics Industry In Action
In fact ACC’s Plastics Division has been working on solutions to marine debris for some time. In 2011 we developed and helped launch the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, which has been signed by over 60 companies in 34 countries—through which more than 185 projects have been planned, initiated, or completed. Some of our work in the United States includes providing recycling bins on beaches and in state parks, sponsoring marine debris research, promoting recycling and the recovery of energy from post-use plastics, and encouraging best practices for handling raw materials.
Working Together For Progress
In a video address released Wednesday, Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment acknowledged the important role that plastics play in our society today and, she also expressed confidence that by “working together we can create meaningful solutions” to keeping plastics out of our oceans. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re looking forward to taking the results of this data-driven work and putting the strategies into action. Please watch Under Secretary Novelli’s complete address below and check out www.marinedebrissolutions.org for more on the plastics industry’s work on ocean litter.
This post first appeared on the American Chemistry Council blog, ‘Chemistry Matters’.