Leila Monroe, Staff Attorney, Oceans Program, San Francisco
In one year, government, business, and citizen leaders from around the world will turn their attention to Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit 2012. As we get ready for the Earth Summit, we must generate real actions on the part of governments at every level, as well as by businesses and civil society groups, to immediately put us all on a more sustainable path.
Plastic pollution in the ocean has serious consequences for marine life, local and global economies, and potentially for human health. Earlier this year I blogged about an international meeting focusing on how the world can solve the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Whether you are an individual making daily choices at the grocery store, a large company deciding how to deliver product to millions of customers, or a government official, developing laws and regulations: there are many opportunities to help solve this problem. Alternatively, inaction at any of these levels means the problem will continue to get worse.
Plastic pollution on a Caribean beach, Courtesy of Fabi Fliervoet, via Flickr
Over the next year, we’ll be working with partners of all kinds to advance solutions to the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. For now, we’ve identified these priority areas where governments, industry, and individuals can act, now:
1) Take Responsibility: Whether you represent yourself, a corporation, or a government, know how much you are contributing to the problem of plastic pollution.
- Conduct a waste audit and share the information.
- Set specific goals to reduce or eliminate your waste generation.
2) Start a Reusable Revolution: Marine plastic pollution shows us that we cannot really throw anything “away”. We have the power and the opportunity to stop this problem at its source by embracing conspicuous conservation.
- Banish the bag! We need legislation that uses fees and other controls to restrict the types of plastic packaging most prevalent in marine debris, especially single-use bags and polystyrene.
- Choose re-usable items wherever possible. Support producers of reusable alternatives and stop using “throw-away” plastics, because there is no “away”.
- Commit to buying recycled content plastics. Specifying recycled content in purchases, whether in government procurement policies or in purchases made by businesses and individuals, helps ensure markets for recovered plastics, and reduces the need to source virgin materials to make new products. And, of course, always recycle.
3) Extend Plastic Producers’ Responsibility: With a nudge from an Extended Producer Responsibility framework, producers will find innovative ways to design better and less packaging that can be more fully recovered and recycled when it has reached the end of its useful life.
- This will help shift responsibility to producers for end-of-life management of plastic packaging.
- Producer responsibility allows for market innovation and flexibility – producers can get creative in finding ways to meet standards.
4) Stop Ghost Fishing: Innovation and public-private partnerships are needed to stop the vast quantity of lost or “derelict” fishing gear that destroys fragile habitat and catches fish and mammals for decades after it is lost.
- New technology such as beacons, or identifiable characteristics like knots, can help track and recover lost gear. Tracking capability can also help enforce anti-dumping restrictions.
- Industry partnerships, bonds, or gear registration can create incentives for return of gear back to port. Funds gathered from these sources can fund essential port reception facilities to collect gear that is properly returned to port.
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