At every major gathering these days to talk about the health of the oceans, plastics gets a lot of attention.
The latest, the fourth Our Ocean summit in Malta Oct. 5-6, was no different.
There was Prince Charles, giving a speech to delegates about the 8 million metric tons of plastic that leak into the oceans each year.
Beyond more trash in the water, he noted that more and more wild fish caught for our tables have plastic in them.
“Faced with such damaging effects on the ocean from plastic waste, from the throwaway convenience lifestyles of many around the world, it is I believe utterly crucial that we transition to a circular economy,” he said. “A circular economy allows plastics along with many other substances to be recovered, recycled and reused, instead of created, used and then thrown away.”
As we reported a few days ago, the environmental group Ocean Conservancy used the Malta event to launch a $150 million investment fund, with participation from the plastics industry, to tackle plastic marine litter in Southeast Asia.
Ocean Conservancy, which is partnering with the American Chemistry Council in that fund, also noted the risks to human health in its blog from the conference, mentioning a study last year that found 25 percent of the fish sold in Indonesian markets contained plastic.
Or as Prince Charles told the conference: “We are very close to reaching the point where whatever wild caught fish you eat will contain plastic. Plastic is indeed now on the menu.”
The Ocean Conservancy said that Indonesia and others in the region are very interested in tackling their plastic waste problems.
Susan Ruffo, managing director of international initiatives at the Washington-based OC, wrote that she's “encouraged that the world is waking up to the crisis of plastic waste in our ocean.”
At these gatherings, she said she sees “much-needed common sense proposals clearly backed by a lot of political will and personal concern, not only from numerous countries but also from major corporations like Dell, as well as key actors like the Closed Loop Fund, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.”
You can look through the lengthy commitments page from the conference, under the marine pollution category, and see 93 mentions of plastics in statements from countries, companies and NGOs.
They include things like the Plastics Solutions Fund, a philanthropic group that's so far given $2.5 million to organizations with the twin goals of “reducing not only the amount of this plastic that enters the environment, but the amount that is manufactured in the first place.”
It hopes to raise $15 million total.
As well, the NGO Think Beyond Plastic said it has a partnership with California State University at Monterey Bay for a $5 million innovation center on plastic waste to “accelerate commercialization of research and innovation with a focus on plastic pollution.”
“This hub will bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, businesses, investors and consumer advocates to facilitate a multidisciplinary approach to solving this complex problem," the group said, noting it has a launch date of 2020.
France said it is “committed to ban single-use plastic cups, glasses and plates” by 2020. The U.S. outlined grant funding to help with marine waste in Asia.
And Malta, the conference host, said it was committed to a container deposit system by 2019 to raise bottle recycling rates to 70 percent, reducing the waste that gets to the ocean.
Germany endorsed extended producer responsibility systems and developing new sources of funding to pay for more effective waste management.
Companies also talked about their commitments, like Unilever planning for 25 percent recycled content plastic in its packaging by 2025.
Plastics maker Borealis launched a 4-million-euro ($4.7 million) effort to provide more money to accelerate waste management systems in Indonesia.
Of course, not all commitments become reality. But scanning the list and following the conference online, it's another reminder of the work getting underway, and the huge efforts still needed around the world, to address the harm plastic litter causes to our seas and waters.