Plastic marine pollution is snagging attention from both the world’s policymakers and the media. Some eight million tons of plastic are estimated to be entering the oceans each year, and experts say the problem is getting worse, especially as fast-growing developing countries pollute without robust waste management and recycling infrastructures in place. While the very visible damage to marine life has scandalized the global public, groups across the planet are developing a range of potential solutions to the problem. Here’s a look at the discussion around the causes and effects of plastic pollution from five perspectives.
Seeing Straws Out
What happened: Seattle became the first major US city to ban restaurants and bars from using single-use plastic straws and utensils. The local authorities hope the move will cut down on waste and prevent marine pollution. Seattle’s eateries must now provide their customers with reusable, compostable, or paper straws and utensils or else face a $250 fine for noncompliance.
Why it matters: While smaller US cities, such as Malibu and San Luis Obispo, have already imposed their own restrictions on plastic straws, Seattle’s decision is more likely to draw the attention of other major American cities.
It may even encourage states to follow its lead, as some, like California, have already placed their own restrictions on plastic.
Read more: Seattle plastic straw ban goes into effect in effort to reduce marine pollution, NBC News, July 2, 2018
Pushing against Plastic
What happened: The UK government unveiled the £20 million ($25.5 million) Plastics and Research Innovation Fund to promote sustainable, environmentally friendly practices in both the manufacturing and consumption of plastic. The fund supports some of the UK’s leading scientists in devising new approaches to tackling plastic.
Why it matters: Mitigating the effects of plastic pollution isn’t just about penalizing the use of plastic to make it less attractive—it’s about putting significant funds toward new solutions. This initiative also shows that the UK is taking the issue seriously. The government has also vowed to introduce more measures to restrict the use of plastic, including a tax on unrecyclable material.
£20 million UK fund to clean up plastics production, Chemistry World, June 19, 2018
Developing Debris in Asia
What happened: Data suggests that a disproportionately large amount of plastic marine pollution can be traced back to developing Asia. A Bloomberg article highlights how urbanization and strong income growth in Asia are ultimately linked to rising plastic pollution in the region. The article cites increased garbage creation unmatched by garbage collection as the main cause of the pollution.
Why it matters: Efforts to reduce plastic pollution by developed countries are unlikely to make a significant difference unless progress is made in emerging Asia.
Read more: How to Solve the Plastic Crisis, Bloomberg, June 25, 2018
Reaping What You Sow
What happened: Nonprofit shareholder advocacy group As You Sow launched a new initiative to encourage the corporate community to help fight plastic pollution. As You Sow claimed to have the backing of 25 institutional investors for its new Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance. Investment management companies from four countries signed a declaration pledging to encourage firms to find solutions to the problem through new corporate commitments, programs, and policies.
Why it matters: Building on the momentum of government regulation and media attention, shareholder engagement can help put pressure on the world’s largest corporations to tackle the effects of plastic pollution.
Read more: As You Sow Launches Investor Alliance to Engage Companies on Plastic Pollution, As You Sow blog, June 14, 2018
Considering Commercial Solutions
What happened: An ImpactAlpha article highlights some of the commercial efforts that are underway on the recycling front, as well as moves to substitute plastic with more environmentally friendly alternatives. UK startup MacRebur, a plastic road company, is testing an asphalt mixture made with recycled plastic, for example, while New York’s Loliware uses seaweed to create straws, cups, and lids.
Why it matters: Identifying tangible opportunities for investors can help bring commercial projects in need of funding together with impact-oriented portfolios. If they can scale effectively, attractive alternatives to plastic will be more likely to encourage firms and consumers to switch to sustainable versions of plastic products.
Read more: How global leadership and impact investments can stem the rising tide of ocean plastic, ImpactAlpha, June 11, 2018