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Stemming the Tide for a Plastic-free Ocean

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Ocean Conservancy today announced the global launch of Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean – a first-of-its-kind, solutions-oriented report in partnership with the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment that outlines specific land-based solutions for plastic waste in the ocean, starting with the elimination of plastic waste leakage in five priority countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand).

“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 report’s findings confirm what many have long thought – that ocean plastic solutions actually begin on land. It will take a coordinated effort of industry, NGOs and government to solve this growing economic and environmental problem.”

Eight million metric tonnes of plastic leak into the world’s ocean every year and the amounts continue to grow. Without concerted global action, there could be one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, leading to massive environmental, economic and health issues. With at least 80 percent of ocean plastic originating from land-based sources, the report’s findings propose a four-point solution to cutting leakage by 45 percent in the next 10 years, dramatically reducing ocean plastic waste by 2025 with the ultimate goal of eradicating the issue by 2035. The report estimates that total costs for implementing these solutions could be contained at $5 billion a year, with significant returns to the global economy.

Beach at Msasani Bay Dar es Salaam Tanzania

“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 Steven Swartz, an Expert Principal in McKinsey’s 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

“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.”

In the short and medium term, the report calls for accelerated development of waste collection and plugging of post-collection leakage, followed by the development and rollout of commercially viable treatment options. In the long term, the report identifies the critical need for innovations in recovery and treatment technologies, development of new materials and product designs that better facilitate reuse or recycling.

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

“The issue of plastic waste in our oceans is having drastic consequences on the livelihoods and health of the people of Dagupan,” said Belen Fernandez, Mayor of the city of Dagupan, a coastal community in the Philippines. “Our town has had a dump site on our beach for over 50 years. We’re working hard to close the dump, and increase the capacity of waste management in Dagupan. Addressing the problem of ocean plastic will have real benefits for not just the environment, but for our citizens - by improving their quality of life. I hope our city and our work will become a model for what’s possible around the world.”

The report underscores that the next 10 years will be critical to effectively solve the problem of ocean plastic– a problem that is not just local, but global in nature. To achieve success, the report calls for a concerted global response driven by an international coalition of companies, governments and NGOs that will catalyze commitments from political leadership, provide local “proofs of concept,” provide waste management technology support and prioritize the ocean plastic waste issue as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean and the environment.

The report is a signature initiative of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, an effort of Ocean Conservancy to unite industry, science and conservation leaders who share a common goal for a healthy ocean free of trash. The report was made possible through the support of numerous partners, including The Dow Chemical Company, The Coca-Cola Company, the American Chemistry Council, REDISA and World Wildlife Fund, as well as the following funders: Adessium Foundation, 11th Hour Racing, Hollomon Price Foundation, Forrest C. & Frances H. Lattner Foundation and Mariposa Foundation.

The Stemming the Tide report is a signature initiative of the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, a unique forum launched by Ocean Conservancy in 2012 that brings together industry, science, and conservation leaders. The Alliance focuses on identifying opportunities for cross-sector solutions that drive action and foster innovation towards a healthy ocean free of trash.


*Image credit: Wikipedia CC2.0

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