Nashville, Tenn. — A $48 million U.S. government effort to fight plastic marine pollution in the developing world is looking for help from the industry.
The "Clean Cities, Blue Ocean" program was launched in mid-2019 by the U.S. Agency for International Development to mitigate ocean plastics and boost waste management in developing nations.
Now, it's opening the door to the plastics industry as it starts its five-year program, beginning with Asia and Latin America, a USAID official said at a presentation at the recent Plastics Recycling Conference and Trade Show in Nashville.
"Why I'm here today is we have a big ask to you because there's so much knowledge in this room," said Clare Romanik, a senior urban specialist and ocean plastics specialist at the agency, in her Feb. 18 speech.
"What USAID is bringing to the table, our competitive advantage, is understanding the developing world, working for decades with cities and improving their municipal services."
But the agency wants to hear from the plastics supply chain because it believes the work it's doing on local waste management can help with a specific business goal — collecting materials to meet recycled content commitments made by major brand consumer product companies, she said.
"We know the brands and retailers have made lots of public commitments and we think we can help implement some of that by helping them with the take back and increasingly making sure they get good recycled content," she said.
She specifically said they are interested in working with packaging designers and converters, technology and service providers, as well as manufacturers, waste haulers and recyclers.
"We really want to cooperate with you to find what solutions you might bring that we can help you apply in these places," Romanik told the industry audience.
It's not the agency's only work around plastics pollution. Last summer USAID announced it was contributing $35 million toward loan guarantees in partnership with the industry-funded social investment firm Circulate Capital.
She said initiatives like the "Clean Cities, Blue Ocean" effort are needed because local governments in developing countries struggle to find money for waste management, even as they urbanize rapidly, adopt lifestyles that use much more packaging, and risk further strains on their environment.
"Between 2010 and 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in towns and cities in the world," Romanik said. "The whole world is rapidly urbanizing but 90 percent of those urban people will be in Asia and Africa. So we really need to focus on that challenge."
Plastics waste is a complex problem, she said, that requires a lot of things, including social and behavioral change for people, business and public institutions.
"We are tackling this problem of ocean plastics pollution because it is a global development challenge," she said, adding that USAID sees CCBO as helping to scale up efforts that work and share those practices.
Some places may need to strengthen rules against open dumping, for example, but a common thread is lack of government resources, she said. Even in places where national governments have plans of action around marine plastic, like Indonesia, cities often lack funding to implement them, the agency said in materials describing its program.