In response to the growing concern over this alarming scenario, many individuals, community groups, businesses and governments have initiated a range of programmes to direct attention to the problem and to attempt to slow the growth rate of plastics in oceans from land sources. Here are some interesting ideas:
1. Plastic Bags Ban
The good news is that many countries around the world have introduced plastic bag bans or charges to incentivise the reusable bags.
- China: In January 2008, China’s State Council put a nationwide ban on plastic bags. It has been estimated that it will save China’s 37 million barrels of oil annually.
- Ireland: Plastics bags have been taxed since 2002 with a reduction in plastic bag use of almost 90%.
- Denmark: In 2003 Denmark introduced a tax to retailers for providing plastic bags. It was estimated that this saved about 66% of plastic and paper bags.
- Wales: Since October 2011, a minimum charge of 5p on all plastic and paper bags was introduced. By July 2012, it was reported that there was a reduction of 96% in the number of plastic bags given away by shops.
- Italy: In January 2011, Italy banned the distribution of plastic bags that are not from biodegradable sources.
- Scotland: In October 2014 a national 5p charge was introduced on all bags used in-store or online, resulting in the first year in a reduction of more than 80% in the usage of single-use carrier bags.
- Germany: The country imposes a recycling tax on all the stores that provide plastic bags.
- England: Since October 2015, an official bag charge was applied to all retailers with 250+ employees. Recent figures have reported England’s annual use of plastic bags dropped by 6 billion (85%) from approximately 7 billion every year with re-useable bags being widely adopted.
- USA: As of July 2014, 20 states and 132 cities have bans in place or pending, meaning that 20 million US citizens are now living in an area where plastic bags are banned.
- Mexico: Since August 2010, Mexico imposed fines on stores that give plastic bags to their customers.
- Brazil: In October 2007 the country imposed bans on plastic bags.
- Australia: Although the nation does not ban lightweight bags, the states of South Australia and North Territory along with some cities have independently banned the plastic bag. Coles Bay, Tasmania was the first location in Australia to ban plastic bags. The introduction of the ‘Zero Waste’ programme in South Australia led to its lightweight bag ban in October 2008. It is estimated that 400 million bags are saved each year.
- Africa: Bans and charges on plastic bags exist across Africa. South Africa, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya and Ethiopia all have total bans in place.
- Bangladesh: A strict ban on plastic bags was introduced in 2002 after the occurrence of floods from 1988 to 1998 that submerged two-thirds of the country in water. The cause of the floods was linked to littered plastic bags.
- France: After pressure from shoppers, the biggest supermarkets in France imposed a ban on free carriers. They now charge between 2p and 42p for reusable bags. This has removed millions of free bags from high streets. The city of Paris adopted a full ban, effective January 2007. On the 1st July 2016, disposable plastic bags were banned in France.
- Belgium: In 2007 a plastic bag tax was adopted across Belgium. Plastic bag use has diminished significantly since the tax was established and the number of bags used each year continues to decrease.
- Haiti: In August 2012 the government passed a ban on plastic bags and foam food containers. Litter and the resulting flooding caused by clogged drainage channels were the reasons behind the ban.
2. Degradable Plastic
It is important to also state that many businesses have decided to promote the use of degradable bags as a solution to the problem created by plastic bags discarded into the environment. There are two types of degradable bags: one type is based on blends of starch and other plastics that can be broken down by bacteria in composting conditions back to water and carbon dioxide. The breakdown process takes typically six months. These can be described as biodegradable under ambient conditions; another type is made from conventional petro-plastics with the addition of catalysts that cause embrittlement after UV light exposure with the bags breaking up into thousands of fragments ranging in size from millimetres to fine powders but not necessarily degradable by bacteria. These can be described as oxo-degradable plastics and can take up to two to five years to break up into these small fragmented particles. This type of degradation process has been described by a Loughborough University report as not compostable according to international ISO and ASTM standards, and therefore not solving a litter problem and not necessarily having any environmental benefits, and that they should be kept out of the mainstream recycling processes.
Unfortunately many well-intentioned companies use oxo-degradable bags but are unaware of the mechanism of fragmentation and the consequential impact on oceans and the land environment.
3. Ecover Ocean Bottle
In 2014 Ecover launched its ‘Ocean Bottle’ to help rid oceans of plastic waste. The Ocean Bottle is made from 100% recycled plastic and 10% of this plastic is collected from plastic waste floating in our oceans. The plastic is collected through Waste Free Oceans (WFO), which is a public-private Foundation that pays fisherman to collect waste plastic for recycling. The plastic is sent to Closed Loop Recycling’s Plant in Dagenham, UK to be processed. Philip Malmberg, Chief Executive of Ecover said, “Our ocean plastic bottle is just one small step on the way to solving the problem, but you’ve got to start somewhere – what we need now is to create a wider network of fishermen, recycling facilities and manufacturers to really make this happen. We also have to exploit existing supply chains and make it as easy as possible for manufacturers to use ocean plastic. At the moment the will is there but it’s just too much effort for many manufacturers to make it work.”
4. Waste Free Oceans Foundation
Waste Free Oceans (WFO) is a ground-breaking public-private Foundation aimed at mobilising and uniting the fisheries sector, public authorities and the international plastics industry in combating the growing issue of floating litter on the coastlines, rivers and seas. What started as a pilot project in Europe to encourage fisherman and the plastics industry to work together on marine litter has now resulted in worldwide actions and the joining of forces in clean-up operations on marine litter. WFO’s aim is to raise awareness of the issue of marine litter, to work on educational campaigns and to continue WFO’s pan-European and international projects of reusing the plastics waste from our oceans and seas, closing the loops for a sustainable future.
5. Fighting for Trash-Free Seas
Over the last 25 years, Ocean Conservancy has been contributing to a vision for trash free seas. More specifically:
• It has mobilised the International Coastal Cleanup which is the largest volunteer effort to clean up waterways and the ocean.
• It has researched and shared key details about what is trashing our oceans with the public, the scientific community and the decision-makers.
• It has prevented trash from entering the waters by working with everyone from individuals to businesses to change the behaviours that cause ocean trash.
• It leads a movement of people taking concrete actions every day to protect the ocean. It brings useful information and tips to people to empower them to stop the flow of trash before it hits our shores.
• It is leading scientific work with business and academic partners to improve our knowledge of the ocean trash issue.
• It built support for the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act and its companion bill in the in the Senate, the Trash Free Seas Act, to strengthen a national focus on marine debris.
• In 2012, Ocean Conservancy launched the Trash Free Seas Alliance. The Alliance puts together industry, science and conservation leaders who share a common goal for a healthy ocean free of trash and provides a constructive forum focused on identifying opportunities for cross-sector solutions that drive action and foster innovation. The members’ aim is to reduce and, where possible, reinvent products and services that damage ocean wildlife or ecosystems.
6. The Plastic Fishing Company
Plastic Whale is an Amsterdam-based venture whose aim is to rid the world’s waters of plastic pollution. The company is making cleaning-up plastics its daily mission. In Amsterdam it organises sight-seeing and plastic fishing tours and corporate events via the city’s extensive canal system, fishing out plastic and trash that is found in to the canal waters and would eventually end up in the oceans. Most of the debris that is collected gets recycled, except plastic that is considered a valuable and useful raw material. Once enough plastic is collected, the company processes the plastic by shredding it, washing it and transforming it into small plastic granules that are used to create foam plates, a light and buoyant material that is used for constructing boats. The new boats that are created are then used to fish for more plastic bottles. Fished-out bottles and cups are used to create mosaics on the boat floors and the rest of the debris collected is used to manufacture unique skateboards called WasteBoards.
Since its launch in 2010, the company has removed more than 50,000 plastic bottles and more than 10,000 kilos of various waste from the canals of Amsterdam, according to the founder Marius Smit. Smit envisions a world of plastic-free waters but also a world where people understand that everyday trash, such as plastic bottles, can be transformed into a valuable raw material. The aim of this work is to change people’s perception of plastic as a disposable material. He therefore created a social enterprise that is part of the solution to plastic pollution, making a positive contribution on a daily basis. The company aims to grow beyond Amsterdam and expand into other European cities and maybe even worldwide.
7. Bureo – Net Gain
The US start-up Bureo is a skateboard company that fights ocean pollution and supports Chilean fishing communities by transforming discarded fishing nets into skateboards. The founders formed the company with a mission to do something positive to address the growing problem of ocean plastic pollution.
They decided to focus on recycling fishing nets because up to 20% of the ocean’s plastic waste comes from fishing gear and because the nets can be harmful for wildlife. Although net littering is a worldwide problem, in Chile fishermen tend to dump worn nets in the ocean because of the high cost of disposal. This was the reason why Bureo created a programme called Net Positivia, Chile’s first ever fishnet collection and recycling system. They distributed collection bags in three villages and offered to compensate the local fishermens’ organisations for every kilo of recycled nets. According to one of the founders, over the first six months, they were able to collect over three tons of nets.
The recycled nets are melted down and fed into an injection mold that creates the skate decks, which have a fish-scale pattern across their surface for better grip. But the sustainability of the boards doesn’t end there. The wheel cores are constructed from 100% recycled plastic, and the wheel exteriors are made from 30% vegetable oil. The company uses 100% recycled paper and cardboard for packaging and only transports the nets from the villages to the factory in Santiago on trucks that have brought other cargo to the villages and would otherwise return to the city empty.
8. The Surfrider Foundation
Recent studies estimate that fish of the west coast of the US ingest over 12,000 tons of plastic – and then we ingest the fish…
The Surfrider Foundation is a US grassroots non-profit environmental organisation that works to protect and preserve the world’s oceans, waves and beaches. The Foundation works at the local and state level to get plastic bags banned and helps pass other plastic-reducing initiatives, raises awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and advocates for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics.
9. Baltimore’s Harbour Water Wheel
The City of Baltimore designed, tested and implemented a solar-powered, trash-eating waterwheel-driven garbage scow that’s plying the urban waters of the Chesapeake Bay, removing tons of trash from the Inner Harbour every day.
The Water Wheel is situated at the mouth of Jones Falls (a major tributary for Baltimore’s Inner Harbour) and it is powered by the current and supplemented by solar panels. The wheel drives a series of rakers that pull floating trash out of the Falls and into a conveyor belt where it is deposited in a floating dumpster. A bank of booms span the outlet, making sure that all trash is guided towards the water wheel. The dumpster barge is independent and can be replaced when the dumpster is filled. The total operating capacity of the water wheel is 25 tons of garbage per day.
By positioning the wheel at the mouth of the river means it can capture the entire Jones Falls watershed with a single short length of boom. The Jones Falls watershed encompasses 58 square miles of densely populated city. All drains lead to the sea and all drains in this watershed lead directly to the water wheel.
It catches plastic and other trash at the source before it has the opportunity to reach the ocean, and before it becomes part of the North Atlantic Garbage Patch.
10. Marine Litter Solutions
Plastics makers are working with NGOs and other public and private sector stakeholders to develop and pilot systemic interventions that will focus resources on regions and economies where the most waste enters the ocean in order to have the most immediate and significant impact.
The Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter is one of the first ways the world’s plastics makers are conserving our oceans and combatting ocean pollution. Since the Declaration’s completion in 2011, 60 plastics organisations in 34 countries have voluntarily signed and committed to take action and make measurable progress. More precisely the members of the Declaration will:
• Contribute to solutions by working in public-private partnerships aimed at preventing marine debris.
• Work with the scientific community and researchers to have a better understanding of the origins and impact of marine litter and the impact of solutions to marine litter.
• Promote science-based policies and the enforcement of existing laws to prevent marine litter.
• Help develop knowledge of eco-efficient waste management systems and practices, particularly in communities and countries that are close to our oceans and watersheds.
• Increase the opportunities to recover plastic products for recycling and energy recovery.
• Control the transport and distribution of plastic resin pellets and products from supplier to customer in order to prevent product loss and encourage customers to do the same.
Since 2011, more than 185 marine litter solutions projects have been planned, put into action or completed which means that there has been a 50% increase in marine litter projects since the Declaration was created.
11. Waste Free Environment
The Waste Free Environment (WFE) is an initiative from the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) that aims to promote recycling and encourages a more responsible attitude towards litter disposal. Through this initiative, every year, thousands of school children and volunteers across the Arabian Gulf come together and join forces to clean up their local environment.
In 2015, the third Waste Free Environment clean-ups took place in 20 locations in 12 cities in the Arabian Gulf and for the first time, the project was successfully exported to Mumbai in India and Sittard/Geleen in the Netherlands. 10,881 people participated in the campaign and 52 tons of waste were collected and transferred to recycling facilities.
12. Operation Clean Sweep
Operation Clean Sweep is an international programme aimed at preventing the loss of plastic pellets and their potential release into the marine environment where they create both a litter problem and a threat to sea-life and wildlife.
It aims to assist each segment of the plastics industry (resin manufacturers, transporters and plastics processors) in order to implement good handling practices with pellets towards achieving zero pellets loss. The programme also focuses on raising awareness among industry workers. Employees must be educated on how to properly handle and dispose of plastics pellets with the goal of reaching zero pellet losses at each step of the production processes.
The programme was adopted and implemented in North America and in the UK and it has already resulted in the implementation of effective corrective action in many companies in the plastics industry in these regions.
13. The Honolulu Strategy
The Honolulu Strategy is a framework for global effort to reduce the ecological, human health and economic impacts of marine debris. In March 2011, 440 participants representing 38 countries, governments, research bodies, corporations (including the Coca-Cola Company) and trade associations such as PlasticsEurope, came together for the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference that resulted in new commitments and partnerships to address the issue of marine litter at global, national and local levels.
One of those commitments is known as the Honolulu Strategy. It is a cross-sectoral approach to help reduce the occurrence of marine debris and the negative impact it has on the marine habitats, the global economy and biodiversity and the risks it poses to human health. The Strategy encourages sharing of technical, legal and market-based solutions to reduce marine litter, improving local and regional understanding of the scale and impact of the problem and advocates the improvement of waste management worldwide.
The Strategy aims at promoting sustained action to stop and reverse the impact of debris in coastal and marine environments by 2030. It is built around three main themes:
• Prevention, reduction and management of land-based sources
• Prevention, reduction and management of sea-based sources
• Removal and processing of accumulated marine debris in the open oceans (surface and sea floor) and along shorelines
It presents several approaches for the reduction of marine debris and it calls for public awareness campaigns on the negative impacts of improper waste disposal on our seas and oceans – targeting street litter, illegal dumping of rubbish and poorly-managed waste dumps.
Improving national waste management programmes helps reduce the volume of waste in the world’s seas and oceans and the consequent damage to the environment and it also brings real economic benefit.
14. Zero Plastics to Landfill/Plastics Europe
With the project ‘Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2020’, PlasticsEurope aims to prevent plastic products ending up in landfills once they become waste, not least because they contain important resources that could be re-used or recycled. According to Martin Engelmann, Advocacy Director and Director of Resource Efficiency at PlasticsEurope, societies in Europe have to become more resource-efficient through the commitment of reusing the waste we produce through re-use, recycling or energy recovery, instead of burying the waste into landfills. Although seven countries plus Norway and Switzerland have introduced landfill bans for plastic waste (so virtually no plastic waste is landfilled), there are 10 EU Member States that landfill more than 60% of their plastic waste. These 10 countries are in principle the target of the project, however, to make it more operational, they decided to focus just on the 5 countries that together landfill more than 80% of Europe’s plastic waste: UK, Italy, Spain, France and Poland. According to Engelmann, if the goal is achieved, 80 million tons of plastic waste could be prevented from going to landfill.
In terms of how it has planned to reach the zero plastics to landfill aim by 2020, re-use is the first priority followed by sustainably recycling plastics. When sustainable recycling is not possible, advanced energy recovery processes are used to produce electricity and heat from the plastic waste.
In achieving the ambitious target of zero plastics to landfill by 2020, PlasticsEurope is advocating for a ban on the landfilling of high-calorific waste by 2020 and it is establishing energy-from-waste and recycling platforms to promote best practice in energy recovery and recycling around Europe. PlasticsEurope is investing over one million euros per year to engage policy makers, stakeholders and the value chain in order to reach the target.
Net-Works is a collaborative project between the global carpet tile manufacturer Interface and the conservation charity the Zoological Society of London that aims to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities. It enables local residents to collect discarded fishing nets and sell them back into a global supply chain where Interface transforms them into carpet yarn.
The pilot project was run between June and October 2012, on the beaches in four local communities near Danajon Bank, a threatened coral reef in the Philippines, and it has demonstrated the economic viability of the scheme. In the first month, thanks to the collaboration with local communities and NGOs, Net-Works established the infrastructure to collect the fishing nets and it was able to gather 1,000 kg of nets.
The scheme has been very successful throughout the years and recent data revealed that to date, Net-Works has been able to remove over 80,000 kg of nets from the ocean and coastal areas in the Philippines.
16. Saltwater Brewery’s Edible Six-Pack Rings
Working with Saltwater Brewery, a Florida craft beer brand targeting surfers, fisherman and ocean lovers, New-York based advertising agency We Believers developed edible six-pack rings that are 100% biodegradable and constructed of barley and wheat ribbons from the brewing process. They are safe for the wildlife to eat and solid enough to support the weight and handling of the cans.
According to We Believers’ Founder and CCO Gustavo Lauria, five 3D printer-generated molds were used to manufacture the first batch of 500 edible and biodegradable six-pack rings for Saltwater Brewery’s main brand IPA. In April 2016, the new packaging was introduced at local events and venues, including the Saltwater Brewery Beer Garden and nearby points of purchase where consumers were able to see that the new design was as strong and solid as the environmentally harmful plastic rings.
Working with engineers at a small startup in Mexico, the company aims to produce 400,000 edible six-pack rings per month, which will be enough to cover the current monthly production of Saltwater Brewery. It is important to point out that the price of Saltwater’s edible six-pack rings is higher than the price of the plastic set previously used. However, Saltwater is confident that the environmentally friendly six-pack solution will gain traction thanks to the company’s fans and customers, many of whom are surfers and fishermen. The company also argues that, if larger brewers and beer industry leaders followed their example in their commitment towards protecting the environment, the production of six-pack rings would quickly become a financially viable solution with competitive pricing that could beat out the plastic rings that most beer companies use now.
17. Beat the Micro-bead Campaign
After Unilever announced in December 2012 that all of its products worldwide would be micro-plastic free by 2015, other multinationals started to adopt this approach. As part of their ‘Beat the Micro-bead Campaign’, two Dutch NGOs, the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation launched a smartphone App in 2012. The App allows consumers in the Netherlands to scan personal care products to check if it contains plastic micro-beads. In the summer of 2013, UNEP and the UK-based NGO Fauna & Flora International partnered with these Foundations to further develop the App for international use.
18. Container Deposit Legislation
Around the world, countries have implemented container-deposit legislation in order to reduce the amount of plastic that enters the environment. These countries are:
- Australia: In South Australia the container deposit legislation was put in place under the Beverage Container Act 1975 and came into operation in 1977. It established a refund of 10 cents per can or bottle. A similar scheme is in practice in the Northern Territory and new initiatives have been announced for New South Wales and Queensland (2017) and Western Australia (2018) leaving only Victoria currently without an active or proposed container deposit programme.
- Canada: All Canadian provinces apart from the territory of Nunavit have their own deposit refund systems. Deposits range from 5 cents to 40 cents per unit depending on the material and size of the container and whether the container originally contained alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.
- Croatia: In 2005, a deposit of 0,50 Kuna was placed on non-reusable containers with a minimum volume of 0.2 L.
- Denmark: Container deposit legislation was put in place in 2002.
- Estonia: A universal deposit and recycling system for one-time and refillable containers has been in place since 2005.
- Finland: Finland uses a deposit-based return system for beverage packages, which enables the efficient collection of packages for recycling. A beverage packaging tax of 0.51 euros per litre is collected for the package of certain alcoholic beverages and soft drinks but, becoming a member of the operational return system provides an exemption from the tax.
- Germany: Container deposit legislation was implemented in 2003. It covered glass, aluminum and plastic drink containers and imposed a refundable deposit of 25 cents on one-way containers.
- Iceland: Iceland was the first country in the world to set up a deposit on a national scale for a wide range of containers, in 1989. The deposit is the same for all bottles and cans and it is 15.00 ISK.
- Israel: In 2001, container deposit legislation was put in place. The legislation covered containers over 100 ml and under 1.5 L and imposed a refundable deposit of 30 agorot.
- The Netherlands: Container deposit legislation was implemented in 1993. It covered plastic and glass both refillable and one-way.
- Norway: Container deposit legislation was implemented in 1994.
- Sweden: Container deposit legislation was put in place in 2006. It covered aluminum cans and plastic bottles but the amount of refundable deposits is not specified by the legislation.
- United States: There are currently 10 States in the US with container deposit legislation: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Vermont
Container deposit legislation has been shown to dramatically improve recycling rates.