This editorial originally appeared in Plastics News. It has been reposted with their permission.
In 2011, recognizing the need to address the growing challenge of marine litter, a determined group of plastics industry associations from around the world initiated a coordinated effort to help address plastic waste in the environment.
Understanding that success would require the need for collaboration with government, NGOs, academia, and other stakeholders, the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter highlighted our interest in partnership and commitment to helping address sources of marine litter. Working with others around the world to better understand the nature and extent of the problem became a priority. We also quickly recognized that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work. Local circumstances required tailored solutions. Learning and then building on the experience of others, we would leverage our collective knowledge for a greater impact. The Global Declaration served as a “north star” toward which we were all moving yet allowing us to do so in a way that best aligned our country or region.
Announcing the Global Declaration at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in March, 2011, forty-seven plastic industry associations began the next leg of our journey towards addressing marine litter. Our guiding principles included six focus areas of work: education, research, public policy, best practices, recycling/recovery, and product stewardship. Our north star—plastic waste does not belong in our environment or our ocean.
Informed by research such as Dr. Jambeck’s 2015 Science paper Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, our collective knowledge and awareness of marine debris and plastic waste in our environment has grown exponentially over the past ten years. Signatories to the Global Declaration—collectively known as the Global Plastics Alliance (GPA)—have executed projects and programs of many types and sizes to raise awareness and increase stakeholder engagement.
In the Gulf Region, the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association launched Waste Free Environment (WFE). The annual initiative promotes recycling and encourages a more responsible attitude towards litter disposal. In addition to cleanup, each WFE event educates thousands of participants on the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle.
In Malaysia, the Malaysian Plastics Forum (MPF) launched an annual “Don’t Be a Litterbug” campaign, bringing hundreds of citizens together each year to clean a designated area, encourage recycling through education, and remind the public that mismanaged litter can pollute the ocean. MPF’s multi-stakeholder campaign demonstrates the added impact of partnering with public and private sector stakeholders.
In Ghana, the Federation of Plastic Manufacturers Recyclers and Users, Ghana (FePMRUG) held its first ever Marine Waste Conference in 2019, bringing together organizations and agencies with the goal of strengthening coordination and cooperation, and sharing knowledge to help prevent trash from discharging to the marine environment.
Here in the United States, one of our many projects, Keep It Beachy Clean, founded by Clean Virginia Waterways, focuses on reaching Virginia Beach’s hotel and resort community with anti-litter messaging. Designed to influence the behaviors of visitors to beach resorts and beach communities, the Beachy Clean messages focus on specific actions that beach visitors can take to ensure clean, safe beaches and waters.
There are many other examples of GPA associations working collaboratively with governments and stakeholders to address the global challenge of marine litter. Since the Global Declaration was announced, 395 projects are planned, underway or completed across the globe.
Our work has been one of many influences that inspired others to act. Companies are pledging to use more recycled content in their products and packaging; governments are developing or updating national waste management plans to address highly littered products; and people are looking for ways to reduce their plastic waste footprint. More than 50 leading companies from the global plastics value chain have joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Representing brand companies, plastic producers and processors, recyclers, and waste management companies, the Alliance has committed to invest $1.5 billion over five years, primarily in rapidly developing countries.
Looking forward to the next ten years, we see increased multi-stakeholder collaboration between industry, government, NGOs, and academia. Marine litter and plastic waste are solvable challenges with the proper solutions, dedication and commitment. Innovations in product design, support for advanced recycling and material recovery systems, increased access to waste collection, and improved understanding of the sources and fate of plastic waste will result in positive, sustainable, long-term benefits for communities and our ocean. The GPA and the companies it represents stand ready to help realize a better future and eliminate plastic waste in our environment.