Governments are Committed to Tackling Ocean Plastic, They Just Need to Stick to It

The lifecycle of plastics © WWF-Aus / Stef Mercurio

A recently released policy analysis from Duke University revealed that over the past decade, governments at every level have taken actions to prevent plastic waste from making it into the ocean. As Phys explained, the analysis finds, however, that the vast majority of new policies have focused specifically on plastic shopping bags and more data needs to be collected to see how successful these policy measures have been.

However, in order to truly tackle the breadth of the ocean plastic crisis policy has to extend far beyond plastic bag bans, especially because plastic production is expected to grow over the coming decade.

Why This Matters: As Pew wrote, it’s important that plastic waste management policies that leaders craft address multiple stages of plastic product lifecycles and encompass the different sources of plastic waste, including microplastics. And while the Duke team found that the adoption of policies addressing multiple stages of the plastic product lifecycle jumped from only 25% from 2000 to 2005 to 59% by 2018, the COVID-19 crisis is setting the word back on its previous commitments.

Go Deeper: Take a look at the global plastic pollution commitments made before the pandemic.

International Commitment: In addition to better policies to manage waste, the world needs an international agreement on marine plastic pollution. A piece written by a team of marine biologists in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences explained that,

Plastic pollution has received little attention in terms of international agreements—a notable contrast to carbon emissions and other global pollutants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). There are many regional, national, and international strategies aimed at preventing and mitigating plastic pollution, but none has a level of commitment that scales with the global magnitude and accelerating growth of the problem.

One such component of an international agreement could include a renewed commitment to ensure that all people have access to clean drinking water. Currently, an estimated two billion people are forced to buy their drinking water in plastic bottles because local piped water supplies are unsafe which greatly contributes to plastic waste in waterways and the ocean. 

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