Environment: There’s a plan to curb ocean plastic pollution

A seal trapped in plastic debris. Photo courtesy EwanEdwards/TheClippertonProject.

8 million tons of plastic waste (and counting) go into the oceans each year …

Staff Report

Slowing the waste stream in five key countries could go a long way toward reducing ocean plastic pollution, according to a new report from Ocean Conservancy. The report outlines a plan that targets the elimination of plastic waste leakage in China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, estimated to account for half of all global plastic leakage.

Medium- and short-term goals include speeding waste collection and staunching post-collection leakage, followed by the development and rollout of commercially viable treatment options. For the long term, the report says it’s critical to find innovative recovery and treatment technologies, and to develop new materials and product designs that better facilitate reuse or recycling.

“Today’s report, for the first time, outlines a specific path forward for the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of plastic waste in the oceans,” said Andreas Merkl, CEO of Ocean Conservancy. The problem of ocean plastic pollution begins on land and it will require massive collaboration among industry, NGOs and government to tackle the problem, Merkl said.

Currently, about 8 million metric tons of plastic reach the world’s oceans each year, and the amount is growing. If the trend isn’t reversed, there could be one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, according to the report, which warns of “massive environmental, economic and health issues.”

Already, studies have documented that most seabirds ingest plastic waste, and that some sea turtle species are threatened because they tend to feed in some of the areas with the highest concentration of plastic waste. Other research shows that crabs are ingesting microplastic pollution via their gills,

At least 80 percent of ocean plastic originates from land-based sources. The plan outlined in the report targets an ambitious 45 percent cut in the next 10 years and a total stop to plastic pollution by 2035, at an annual cost of about $5 billion, with significant returns to the global economy.

The report was prepared in partnership with the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, and big players in the plastic and chemical industry are also involved.


“We’re committed to working toward a future of a plastic-free ocean,” said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, a partner on the report. “Companies don’t make plastic with the intent of it ending up in the ocean, and we acknowledge the strong role industry must play in order to help eliminate ocean plastic waste by 2035.”

“Considering this is a global environmental challenge impacting sanitation and health, land values, important sources of global protein, and the growth of the consumer goods and packaging industries, an estimated $5 billion scale of intervention makes this one of the most solvable of the environmental challenges we collectively face,” said Dr. Martin Stuchtey, director of the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

Stemming the Tide specifically underscores the important role of industry in driving the solutions and catalyzing public and private investment to solve the problem of ocean plastic leakage.

The report emphasizes the need for all approaches and solutions to be tailored at the regional level, specifically in the five priority countries identified. While some countries have made major improvements in curbing plastic leakage, greater global support is needed to scale impact swiftly in these priority regions.

According to the report, the next 10 years will be critical to solving the problem — only possible if  the ocean plastic waste issue is prioritized as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean and the environment.


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