The environmental group Ocean Conservancy and its plastics industry partners are publicly committing to raise at least $10 million by 2020 for scientific research and to build public support for addressing problems from plastics in the oceans.
The commitment was unveiled as part of a United Nations conference on the health of the oceans beginning June 5 in New York, an event that's drawing thousands of government officials, nongovernmental organizations and other delegates.
The commitment comes from a group called the Trash Free Seas Alliance, which is part of the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy and includes some big names in the plastics industry on its eight-member steering committee around TFSA's signature goal, a 50 percent reduction in plastics flowing to the ocean by 2025.
They are the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical Co., Amcor Ltd. and the World Plastics Council. Other committee members include Coca-Cola Co., the World Wildlife Fund and Procter & Gamble Corp.
The TFSA document said the Ocean Conservancy and its TFSA partners will raise at least $10 million between 2015 and 2020. The group has raised about half of that so far and believe it's an "ambitious but achievable" target, said Susan Ruffo, managing director of international initiatives at the Ocean Conservancy.
"Our partners from the plastic industry provide are providing an important part of that funding," Ruffo said. "In addition, they are providing expertise, leadership within the private sector and are making their own commitments to solving the problem."
Specifically, TFSA said the money will be used to advance scientific understanding of the problem of marine plastic debris and work with governments, other institutions, corporations and the public.
It said, for example, that 8 million tons of plastic enters the oceans each year, "like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year."
And TFSA noted that plastic is entering the food chain for people: it said that plastic has been found in 28 percent of the fish in markets in Indonesia and 25 percent of the fish in markets in California.
"That is why the Trash Free Seas Alliance is focused on finding multisectoral, collaborative solutions to addressing land-based sources of plastics, to turn off the tap flowing into our ocean," the group said.
The UN conference, which runs June 5-9, includes more than 600 public commitments from governments, NGOs, companies and others toward improving the health of the oceans.
Most of them focus on other ocean challenges, like overfishing or acidification, but 95 of the commitments deal with plastic.
They include Monaco saying it banned thin plastic bags and the European Union, which said it expected its EU Plastics Strategy —to be finalized this year — will help comprehensively address the problem of marine plastics.
At a June 1 press briefing to preview the conference, Peter Thomson, president of the UN General Assembly, said plastic ocean pollution is moving from a problem of waste management to a broader public health and economic issue.
He said China and Indonesia are the two biggest sources of plastic pollution in the ocean, and that in Indonesia, the government is concerned the problem is hurting other parts of its economy.
"They are seeing that marine pollution is starting to hurt their tourist industry," Thomson said. "And so the Indonesian government is instituting laws that are going to stop plastic getting into it, because you know, it's going to affect jobs on the land in the hotel industry if the beaches and the seas are full of plastic."
Thomson also highlighted microplastics pollution from clothing and other sources as a topic that needs more attention.
"I would like to see more honesty in the microplastics area," he said, noting that he had seen video at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts showing phytoplankton in the mid-Atlantic eating microplastics.
"Where's the phytoplankton going?" he said. "It's being eaten by bigger fish, and ending up eventually on your dinner plate. What's that going to do to humanity. It can't be good.
"This is a moment of honesty for all us in terms of the plastic pollution," he said.
A draft of a final declaration from the UN conference calls for "robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, particularly plastic bags and single use plastics."
Ruffo said the $10 million represents a major increase in funding from TFSA's first phase of work from 2011 to 2015, and said money that is "deployed strategically" can influence action beyond the group's work.
For example, she said previous TFSA work identified that 80 percent of plastics in the ocean comes from land, mostly from sources that escape waste management systems or leak from existing waste management.
"TFSA has helped governments and other actors direct their resources toward real solutions that will make real progress," she said.
Ruffo said at least 3 billion people do not have access to safe and well-managed waste disposal facilities, and that meetings like the UN conference and discussions at the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum have the potential to unlock development capital.
"We need the reach of consumer brands, the innovation of plastic producers, the advocacy efforts of conservation groups and world-class research by scientists to truly make progress," she said.