How can we reduce ocean plastic pollution?

Support legislation to curb plastic production and waste. Participate in (or organize) a beach or river cleanup. Improve wastewater management by developing and building sustainable wastewater infrastructure for the 3 billion people who lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities. Untreated wastewater contains a number of contaminants such as pathogens, plastics and chemicals.

It can pose a serious risk to human and environmental health due to exposure to toxic substances, vector-borne diseases and eutrophication. Before the in-depth research that underpins the report, Stuchtey says, many of the proposals to address plastic pollution in the oceans were often “not reconciled, untested and unsubstantiated.” As for Pew, the next steps are to seek governments, companies and civil society to sign a joint statement on the prevention of plastic pollution in the oceans; working so that policy makers have more access to the findings of the report; and determining how the Trusts can best be positioned to help solve this problem. While communities around the world have already begun to ban plastic shopping bags and restaurants are giving up plastic straws, these efforts are not enough, according to the report. The world has responded with countless initiatives, campaigns and agreements to ban plastic straws and bags; 127 countries have introduced laws to regulate plastic bags.

Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, who also spoke at the virtual launch event in July, said the report could prove to be the defining strategic basis for addressing plastic pollution in the oceans. According to the report, plastic in the ocean comes in countless familiar forms, from shopping bags and takeaway food containers to water bottles, toothbrushes, toys, bubble wrap, appliances and much more. If implemented, the expected generation of plastic waste could be reduced by almost a third through elimination, reuse and new delivery models, such as refillable packaging and product subscription services that collect and reuse packaging, and by another 17% by replacing plastic with paper and compostable materials. Waiting even five years would allow an additional 80 million metric tons of plastic to enter the ocean.

For more than a decade, scientists have warned that humanity is leaving so much plastic in the natural environment that future archaeologists will be able to mark this era with the synthetic waste that was left behind, in short, the Age of Plastic. This means that there is an opportunity to take advantage of the attention given to plastic pollution to address multiple ocean pollutants at once. For example, improving wastewater management on a large scale in a city or region can reduce the entry of plastic into the ocean and, at the same time, reduce nutrient pollution, which in turn improves the health of fisheries and coral reefs. However, he said, the report showed a credible way to stop the avalanche of plastic pollution in the ocean.

The research revealed that the system change scenario would reduce the annual flow of plastic waste into the ocean by approximately 80% between now and 2040, and that the action of government and industry leaders would drive much of the change.

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