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Plastic Waste and Protection of the Ocean

A man walks along the Indian Ocean as the tide goes out at Coco Beach in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (FILE)

“There is a greater need than ever for global cooperation to combat marine debris."

“As we seek globally to protect important marine ecosystems from over-fishing and damaging extractive uses, we must also focus our protection efforts around the unfortunate effects that plastic waste is having on the global ocean,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli said recently in an event in Washington, DC on the protection of the ocean.

Plastic Waste and Protection of the Ocean
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“Once in the ocean, plastic waste can entangle sea creatures, damage habitats like coral reefs, and be eaten by marine animals,” she said. “It also breaks down into small pieces which can persist for hundreds of years.”

Current plastic production is over 200 million tons each year. By 2025, plastic consumption in Asia is forecasted to increase by 80 percent to surpass 200 million tons, and global consumption to 400 million tons. There could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the ocean by 2025.

To address this problem, Under Secretary Novelli said we need to focus on three areas: first, reduce plastic waste; second, improve national systems for waste management; and third, encourage reuse and recycling of plastics.

“This global problem can also be viewed as an opportunity, one where entrepreneurs and innovators can drive us to practical solutions,” she said.

The innovative “circular economy” concept’s life-cycle treatment of materials and energy calls for redesigning products and business models to increase recycling rates and recapture materials for next-generation use. This can potentially revolutionize our ability to minimize waste.

“Addressing waste collection in developing countries is necessary to solve the ocean plastic problem,” Under Secretary Novelli pointed out.“Economically viable solutions – such as waste to energy projects and recycling innovation – hold significant promise.”

About half of the plastic in the ocean can be attributed to only five countries that lack adequate waste management.

“There is a greater need than ever for global cooperation to combat marine debris,” Under Secretary Novelli said. “The problem requires attention at every level and every step, from the development of a comprehensive waste collection infrastructure, to the advanced reengineering and innovation that will constitute a sustainable circular economy model, to choices we all make in our daily lives.”