Iranpolymer/Baspar We all know that plastic in our oceans is an environmentally devastating problem that is only getting worse. According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report, over 17 million tonnes of plastic entered the ocean in 2021, and that number is set to double or even triple by 2040. The collection and recycling of ocean-bound plastic has great potential to address this spread, but sadly, not enough businesses and consumers understand what it is, which has led to a general misunderstanding of the category.
For many, recycled ocean-bound plastic conjures up images of being pulled directly from the sea or from around the neck of a sea turtle, which is simply not the case. Plastic pulled from the ocean has already been degraded by the salt and sun, making it very difficult to recycle at scale. At best, well-meaning companies try to engage with consumers by using this emotive but misleading imagery as a shorthand – and, at worst, bad actors in the industry deliberately conjure this image in order to greenwash or generate confusion.
Our operating definition of ocean-bound plastic is inspired by the pioneering work of Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering and 2022 MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Jenna Jambeck, and her team. They utilised various criteria in their research, and it is important to consider these factors together, rather than looking at one aspect of the problem in isolation.
- The country or region lacks proper waste management infrastructure and collection incentives.
- The infrastructure is being overwhelmed by population growth and/or increased tourism.
- There is a significant risk to wildlife and biodiversity if plastic contaminates their ecosystem.
- It is found within 50km (30mi) distance of an ocean coastline or major waterway that feeds into the ocean.
The Prevented Ocean Plastic programme focuses on addressing these concerns in tandem, working with at-risk coastal communities to create an intervention before this plastic reaches our waterways, where it can cause immeasurable harm.