Combatting marine litter requires local action and global coordination. The difficulty is coordinating and communicating between the many facets of the movement including scientists, educators, NGOs, policy makers and industry.
As with many environmental issues, research is a very important aspect of progress, and there is a lot of research happening on the biological impacts of marine debris, its movement via large and small-scale currents, and toxicology. However good research goes nowhere if there isn’t a good way to spread the information. To this end, there are numerous local, national and international organizations that focus on outreach and education. There are very few organizations looking at ways to collect litter on the open ocean.
Technological improvements are another important solution. The global recycling rate is only 14%. We need to get better at keeping the plastic we’ve already made, instead of just making more. There is a pretty big movement towards biodegradable plastics. Though this is a great concept, many biodegradables require specific conditions in order to breakdown, in particularly heat, which is absent in the ocean. These plastics act just like regular plastic while in the ocean.
Government mandated plastic bans have become a powerful way of limiting plastic consumption. This solution has been shown to have a lot of success, but is a road fraught with struggle. In 2016, California passed a bill banning single use plastic bags. A few months later, Michigan passed a law banning the ban of single use plastic bags. On a global level, there has been some incredible progress. China has had bag regulations in place since 2008. The Indian cities of Kartanka and Dehli have banned all forms of disposable single use plastic including bags, cups, bottles and utensils. At least 35 countries have banned or taxed plastic bags, including Camaroon, Pakistan and Bhutan.
Check back soon! I will be breaking down the most powerful and innovative solutions in the next few weeks.