What is being done to limit the 8 million metric tons of plastic that escapes into the world’s oceans each year?
05/13/2018 // Edsel Cook // Views

Each year, eight million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans of the world – with much of it coming from Southeast Asia. To prevent further damage, environmentalists, the plastics industry, and national governments have all taken steps to reduce plastic pollution and improve waste management, according to an article on Chemical & Engineering News.

In addition, plastics companies and non-government organizations have teamed up to find new ways of collecting, sorting, and recycling plastic garbage, following a paper by researcher Jenna Jambeck from the University of Georgia in 2015. In her paper, Jambeck warned that annual plastics leakage could hit 17.5 million metric tons by 2025 if nothing is done. Her study provided an important clue for organizations trying to clean up the oceans.

Five countries in Asia account for more than 50 percent of ocean plastics

More than half of the plastics in the ocean come from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Focusing efforts on improving waste management in those Asian countries could pay big dividends in reducing plastic pollution. (Related: Plastic pollution being re-purposed to break down dyes from wastewater.)

A similar study by environmental group Ocean Conservancy swapped out Sri Lanka for Thailand. Their study asserts that cutting plastic litter in those five countries by 65 percent will cut the amount of plastics that leaks into the ocean by 45 percent.

The group urges town and cities to improve garbage collection. Uncollected trash accounts for three-fourths of plastics leakage, yet only 10 percent of garbage is collected in rural China and the Philippines.


The last one-fourth of leakage can be amended by fixing inefficiencies in the waste management system. This includes improved landfills, recycling efforts, and waste-to-energy facilities.

Asian governments are finally taking appropriate actions. Indonesia pledged to reduce its plastics garbage by 70 percent at the end of 2025, Sri Lanka has forbidden single-use plastics, and China stopped importing post-consumer plastics.

NGOs like 5 Gyres are campaigning for a total ban on plastics found during ocean clean-ups. Their Better Alternatives Now (BAN) List includes bags, beverage bottles, food wrappers, and straws.

The plastics industry and other companies are finally doing their part

Surprisingly, the plastics industry is also doing its part. Australian company Borealis is working alongside Indonesian officials to clean up the major port city of Muncar, where they will set up a waste collection system and encourage locals to recycle plastic.

Dow Packaging has been sponsoring coastal clean-ups programs for more than 30 years. A co-founder of the Trash Free Seas Alliance program with Ocean Conservancy, it also sponsors a road-building program in Indonesia and India that uses flexible packaging plastic as construction material.

Non-plastics companies are also doing their part. Procter & Gamble (P&G), for example, recycled plastics collected from French beaches into shampoo bottles in 2017. The consumer products giant is also recycling ocean plastics into dish detergent bottles.

P&G also joined Ocean Conservancy, the American Chemistry Council, Pepsi, Dow, and 3M in the Closed Loop Ocean initiative that aims to stop plastic leakage in Asia. Closed Loop provides funding for recycling trucks, facilities, and programs in several U.S. states. It is planning to replicate its success in Southeast Asia.

Computer company Dell is recycling ocean plastics to make packaging material for its laptops. It is working on a supply chain that will collect plastics from "hot spots" in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Learn more about the ongoing efforts to save our environment at Pollution.news.

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