Chicago — Representatives from a nonprofit, a trade group, a chemical company and a packaging firm all walk into a conference.
But it's no joke that they all agree on something: The plastics industry is facing a serious problem with ocean pollution.
Plastics in the oceans or littered plastics on land headed that way have grabbed the industry by the throat during the past few years. And the grip is only getting tighter with the well-publicized figure of an estimated 8 million metric tons of the material entering the water every year.
The populace has taken notice. Cue the video of the turtle with a straw stuck in its snout. Or the photos of dead, decaying birds full of plastic they ingested.
So when folks from Amcor Ltd., the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical Co. and Ocean Conservancy wound up on the stage together at the Plastics Caps & Closures 2018 conference in Chicago, they all said something has to change.
"It's not easy. There is no simple solution to the problem. It's very much a complicated matter," said Fabio Peyer, sustainability manager for Amcor Flexibles Americas.
While some places consider the merits of banning straws or plastic bags, for example, other parts of the world are leaking huge amounts of plastic litter either directly into oceans or into waterways that lead to oceans.
The United States is certainly not immune to contributing to the problem, but certain hot spots in Asia account for much more of this type of pollution, research shows.
Without effective waste management programs in the problem areas, there is no clear-cut solution readily at hand. Meanwhile, more and more plastic enters the environment.
The Trash Free Seas Program within the Ocean Conservancy helps oversee efforts to keep trash out of the water. It is part of the larger Trash Free Seas Alliance that includes other nonprofits, trade groups and companies.
But even the manager of that program, Eric DesRoberts, understands the limitations currently in place.
"We recognize the cleanup alone is not going to solve the problem," he said at the conference organized by Plastics News. "This is a global problem."
Waste management efforts have fallen behind economic and population growth in certain areas, with China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines often cited as especially problematic areas.
But DesRoberts said the issue is not limited to one part of the world.
"While work that the Trash Free Seas Alliance is focused on is really in Southeast Asia, looking at some of the waste management challenges there with our other partners throughout the Alliance, there really is a global problem. We have a lot of problems in the U.S. that are contributing to this issue," he said.