Without detailing any new initiatives, 47 global plastics trade groups, including PlasticsEurope, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the two main groups representing the U.S. plastics industry, pledged March 22 to work in partnership to develop global solutions to marine debris.
The associations, which represent groups in 26 countries, did not outline any new actions for addressing what they said are the largest contributors to marine debris poor or insufficient, inadequate waste management infrastructure, lack of sufficient recycling/ recovery, and bad practices such as land and marine litter.
Rather, the 47 associations said they want to work with governments, non-government organizations, researchers and other stakeholders to prevent marine litter.
These are large and complex issues with societal and economic challenges and more than any single entity, industry, or government can solve, their declaration said.
The statement was issued March 22 at the International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu. It was signed by representatives from all 47 organizations, including the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council and the Society of the Plastics Industries Inc., both in Washington.
What's significant is the number of entities, the extent of the geographic reach and the number of countries represented, said Steve Russell, vice president of the plastics division of the ACC.
Sarah Abramson Sikich, coastal resources director for Heal the Bay in Santa Monica, Calif., said the declaration will not stop her group from supporting bans and taxes on plastic products.
Unfortunately the declaration reflects the same ineffective approaches plastic industry groups have been taking for years, and the commitments outlined within it are vague and will not successfully prevent or reduce marine debris, she said.
Our communities, inland waterways, local beaches and remote areas around the world are drowning in plastic pollution. The problem is simply too large to recycle our way out of it, Abramson Sikich said. Strong regulatory and policy action is needed that prevents trash from getting into waterways in the first place, as well as to promote the use of more sustainable items, like reusable bags and water bottles.
We recommend target trash reductions, bans or charges on the most prevalent items found in aquatic environments be established to truly address the plastic pollution problem, she said.
Russell said the associations agreed to address the same six specific areas that the plastics industry has already participated in regarding marine debris. But the associations want ideas that work in one country to be put into place in other countries, if they are appropriate, he said.
Those ideas include the recycling bin program on beaches in California, Russell said.
Marine litter is a global problem and it requires global solutions, he said. We [want] to leverage current programs and to generate the creative spark that launches innovative solutions.
The joint declaration listed six different areas where the associations aim to focus their activities:
* Public-private partnerships aimed at preventing marine debris.
* Enforcement of existing laws to prevent marine litter, and the promotion of scientific-based policies to prevent marine litter.
* Programs that enhance opportunities to recover plastic products for recycling and energy recovery.
* Partnerships with the scientific community and researchers to better understand the scope, origins and impacts of solutions to marine litter.
* Educational efforts regarding eco-efficient waste management systems and practices.
* Stewardship programs to prevent plastic pellets from spilling during transport and distribution.
These are the areas where we are willing to work together, said Russell. He added that the decision to forge such an agreement began during an October meeting after the K show in Germany.
Russell is hoping the joint commitment of so many associations across the globe will help to create a partnership with non-governmental, environmental groups and governments. That kind of partnership is where I think this has the most likelihood for a splash, he said, on issues where we all share a common goal that is, to reduce the use of material and energy, to reduce the carbon footprint and to recycle, he said.
Hopefully, through this, we can make progress by meeting with each other to discuss solutions rather than only meeting each other in a more adversarial context, Russell said.
In its joint declaration, the 47 plastics associations said: For society to receive the benefits that plastics can provide, it is essential to properly recover them so that litter does not threaten our natural environment, including marine ecosystems. ... Plastics do not belong in the world's oceans.
In a related statement, PlasticsEurope President Jacques van Rijckevorsel said: This joint global declaration on marine litter is [aimed] at taking part in shaping a solution to this complex societal issue. [Plastics] should be responsibly used and disposed of either via recycling or energy recovery.
ACC said it has spent nearly $2 million in the last two years in California in support of programs aimed at preventing marine debris, including educational outreach support of the first federally funded research expedition to the North Atlantic gyre in 2010, support of scientific research on marine debris, the purchase of nearly 700 recycling bins at 19 coastal locations from San Diego to Santa Cruz, and educational efforts to promote recycling.
Nineteen U.S. communities have banned plastic bags and Washington, D.C., has a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper carryout bags. In addition, nearly 40 communities in California and along the West Coast have bans on polystyrene takeout containers.