Report: Plastics Associations Make Progress on Ocean Cleanup

February 22, 2013

The American Chemistry Council and 57 other plastics associations around the world recently reported on the progress they've made on the Global Declaration of the Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter. The Declaration was originally announced in March 2011 at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

The progress report lists more than 140 education, research, policy, best-practices, recycling/recovery, and pellet containment projects to prevent marine litter, and their current status. The projects include efforts in education, global research, eco-efficient waste management, and litter prevention. By far the majority consists of education, so many of these are still ongoing. Several policy and research projects have been completed, such as an Australian study on the environmental impact of various degradable plastics, and a Canadian study on agricultural plastics recovery.

Although it might not be immediately obvious what agricultural plastics research has to do with plastic pollution in the oceans, as much as 80 percent of marine litter comes from land-based sources. About 70 percent of overall litter ends up on the ocean floor, and about 30 percent remains in suspension or floats.

The report also provides details on the Global Declaration itself, and the six commitments made under it by the plastics associations. The six commitments are areas of engagement that target sustainable solutions. They are focused on public-private partnerships to prevent marine litter, research, public policy, sharing best-practices, plastics recycling/recovery, and plastic pellet containment. After coming up with this list, declaration signatories identified specific actions to fulfill the declaration, and agreed to track and report their progress on those actions.

According to the report, the declaration was "a public commitment by a global industry to work with partners to tackle a global problem: plastics in the marine environment." It provides case studies of specific projects, and ideas about using the results of those projects to prevent marine litter in other regions of the world. The report can be accessed from a link in the press release on this page.

We've reported on The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP), which has as its primary goal the cleaning up of plastic from the Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The non-profit organization aims to locate, remove, and recycle plastic marine debris, in part by helping to develop new technologies. For example, TCOP is working with Japan-based plastic-to-fuel system maker Blest and E-N-ergy, a Blest distributor, to develop a shipboard plastic-to-fuel conversion system that can transform plastic trash into diesel fuel. By fueling TCOP's collection vessels, the system could eliminate the need for those vessels to return to shore for disposing of the waste, and also keep that trash out of landfills.

According to the progress report, many plastics manufacturers and processors have been working to reduce plastic marine litter for a few decades. It's heartening to know that the producers of plastics, as well as some of their consumers, are trying to help mitigate the damage these materials have caused in the world's oceans.

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