A New Playbook For Addressing Ocean Plastics

In advance of the sixth Our Ocean Conference later this week, the Ocean Conservancy released its latest report on ocean plastics — this one is a collaboration with industry on how to curb the use of single-use plastics and protect oceans from them.  The report recommends that governments issue content standards for recycled products to increase the demand for them and that they impose fees on producers depending on the amount of packaging material they put on the market or their plastic recycling/recovery targets in order to curb plastic use and increase single-use plastic collection.

Why This Matters:  It is significant that a group of companies that are responsible for much of the plastic that is sold — companies like Dow, Starbucks and Coca-Cola — were part of this effort and stand behind these recommendations.  They know they have a problem.  But it will take their action — urging Congress and state and local legislatures to enact the necessary laws and ordinances — to make their recommendations a reality.  These companies are unlikely to make the giant leaps necessary to decrease plastic use and increase recycling unless they do so together because it is legally required. There is a funding gap for recycling plastic products and it needs to close ASAP.  

The Report’s Key Findings:

  • “In the five target countries, there is a net financing gap for plastic waste collection of between U.S. $28 – $40 per ton.”
  • “To reduce the financing gap and make sure that all waste is collected, extended producer responsibility (often referred to as EPR), implemented through Packaging Material Fees – where producers pay fees depending on the amount of packaging material put on the market or their plastic recycling/recovery targets – can have the highest potential in reducing this gap, by up to 75%.”
  • “Increasing demand for recycled plastic through recycled content standards has a potential to reduce the existing collection financing gap by up to 34%.”
  • “Bans on problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics (specifically, plastic grocery bags, plastic straws and stirrers, plastic cups and lids, plastic cutlery, foam food containers, oxo-biodegradable plastic materials, PVC packaging, and primary microplastics) can improve collection by reducing the contamination of post-consumer waste streams.”

Prior Reports by Ocean Conservancy Were Instrumental

Ocean Conservancy’s latest report builds on two prior ones that were groundbreaking in raising awareness of the sources and potential solutions to the problem of ocean plastic pollution.  In 2015, Ocean Conservancy issued its first report entitled “Stemming the Tide,” which showed that 75% of the plastic in the ocean was never collected as part of a formal waste management system, and that 60% originated in five Asian countries – China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2017, Ocean Conservancy produced a  second report, “The Next Wave,” that identified how collection in these focus countries is largely underfunded.

To Go Deeper: You can get the Playbook here.

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