|Marine Debris As A Global Environmental Problem.|
The report starts off with some humbling and devastating words:
In the remote places on earth with few or no humans present such as here on St. Brandon's islands in the Indian Ocean, one can find substantial quantities of plastic debris.
The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel introduced a new report entitled "Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a Solutions Based Framework Focused on Plastic." But despite the somber words of this report there is some encouraging news. Firstly, the report clearly identifies the problem so it can be the focus of solutions: the problem is plastic:
Man-made debris in the oceans is now found from the poles to the equator and from shorelines, estuaries and the sea surface to ocean floor. While the types and absolute quantities vary, it is clear that plastic materials represent the major constituents of this debris, and there is no doubt about the ubiquity of such debris on a truly global scale.
Many talks on the subject of "Marine Debris," especially those funded by industry, have been avoiding discussions about plastics. The most destructive and commonly used materials that makes its way to our shores then out to the oceans and back onto shores around the globe.
Here's where the solutions enter the picture. And you can help with this process too! It's very simple. Stop using disposable plastics. Find alternatives. Demand alternatives. Invent alternatives!! Now that your aware of the problems of plastics you can make better informed choices when shopping.
The report also acknowledges that the companies who produce the VAST amounts of disposable plastics must take part in effective management of the resulting plastic waste. Alot of cities and communities simply cannot afford to maintain a recycling infrastructure and consequently alot of the plastic waste ends up in landfills.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner is quoted in the report with a message he delivered to the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in 2011:
Marine debris -- trash in our oceans -- is a symptom of our throw-away society and our approach to how we use our natural resources. It affects every country and every ocean and shows us in highly visible terms the urgency of shifting towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy... However, one community or one country acting in isolation will not be the answer. We need to address marine debris collectively across national boundaries and with the private sector, which has a critical role to play both in reducing the kinds of wastes that can end up in the world's oceans, and through research into new materials. It is by bringing all these players together that we can truly make a difference.
The report also cover several key points recommending strategies to implement solutions, taking into account all kinds of plastic waste and regional capacity to manage the waste. Here are some of the key points:
1. An appropriate starting point is to identify a specific problem in terms of the types of marine debris of concern (e.g., consumer waste, industrial waste, and packaging), including volumes and flows.
2. The next step is to bring together the key players in the supply chain, and organize an evidence-based dialogue aiming at the identification of ways to reduce the accumulation of debris.
3. The next step would be to facilitate the most desirable immediate and long-term options via a range of implementation strategies such as public awareness, development incentives and regulation.
4. Finally, it is crucial to measure success via monitoring of both changes in the scale of the marine debris problem identified at the outset, and assessment of the effectiveness of the individual implementation strategies and action plans.
Key Pre-Consumer methods of reducing plastic pollution, identified in the report, that can be integrated into regional solutions include:
1. Molecular redesign of plastics through "green" chemistry incorporated into the production of goods and packaging so that they will be safer to use and less harmful to the environment when they become waste.
2. Design criteria to develop new polymers and products including specifications to enhance reusability, recyclability or recovery of plastic once it has been used.
3. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to help redistribute the burden of handling end-of-life plastic from governments and individuals who may be impacted by the waste, to producers whose interests would then be aligned with those of the region.
As calls for increased study continued, the report cautions that: "lack of a complete accounting of every impact and/or methodology to control plastic pollution should not be used to delay immediate efforts to halt the accumulation of plastic pollution in our environment."
The authors of the report believe that sufficient knowledge exists to support progress on this issue now. The knowledge gaps are outlined and should be considered as means of refining actions, rather than defining or delaying them. "It is only with this type of rational approach to environmental protection that we can hope to make significant and timely reductions in any of the pollutants threatening our environment, from plastic pollution to the carbon that is warming our planet, so that we can avert disaster before all systems are overwhelmed."
Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a solutions based framework focused on plastic was prepared on behalf of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) by Richard C. Thompson (University of Plymouth, United Kingdom), Bruce E. La Belle (California Environmental Protection Agency, United States), Hindrik Bouwman (STAP, North-West University, South Africa), and Lev Neretin (STAP). The authors of the report give thanks for input from experts in the field including the United Nations Environmental Programme, Natural Resources Defense Council and Plastic Pollution Coalition.