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Wednesday, 06 January 2016 11:11

Harmful ocean plastic debris leaks mostly from the land - but it can be stopped

Research has found that more than 80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources rather than from perceived sources such as fisheries and fishing vessels. Furthermore, of that 80%, three-quarters comes from uncollected waste - but with intelligent efforts this can be prevented say a business environment group.

stop plastic ocean1The McKinsey Center for Business and Environment recently collaborated on a report with the Ocean Conservancy called Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean which identified the origins of the world's plastic marine debris and how it leaks into the oceans.

They point out that by 2025, a staggering 250 million metric tonnes of plastic are projected to be in the ocean unless action is taken. That is one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish!

Plastic not only harms wildlife and habitats through entanglement with larger pieces of refuse, it also fragments into particles that find their way into living organisms in ways we are only beginning to understand.

McKinsey show in their 'Stemming the Tide' report that plastics found in the ocean come from thousands of sources across multiple countries, so no international organization, government, or company has the authority, expertise, or resources to address this environmental threat on its own.

Critically, their research found that more than half of the plastic leaking into the ocean comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. As an immediate priority, McKinsey believe there is an opportunity to reduce plastic-waste leakage by 65 percent in these five countries—resulting in a 45 percent reduction globally—through measures including closing leakage points within the collection system, increasing waste-collection rates, using a variety of technologies to treat waste, and manually sorting high-value plastic waste.

As a result they recommend:

1. Obtaining real and meaningful commitments from national governments, governors, and mayors to set and achieve ambitious waste-management targets.

stop plastic ocean22. Providing local integrated waste-management approaches in a number of carefully selected pilot cities as "proofs of concept".

3. Building a best-practice transfer mechanism of global expertise to high-priority cities.

4. Ensuring required project-investment conditions are in place.

5. Facilitating technology implementation by equipping technology providers with detailed data.

6. Bringing leadership and a strategic focus on solutions as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean.

Waste Free Oceans reiterates that, in addition to such recommendations, measures need to be taken in order to optimise port reception facilities when it comes to disposing of marine litter collected at sea. At the moment, landing waste is not free of charge in EU ports – an obstacle for Fishing for Litter by fishermen and a disincentive to fight the marine litter problem.

stop plastic ocean3Munich-based Martin Stuchtey, who leads the McKinsey's Center for Business and Environment, said : "Plastic is a huge, interesting topic. It is the ultimate single-use material. Not only does it clog our ecosystems in very graphic ways but losing a valuable material like plastic after one use is also a huge loss to the economy. Bringing it back into use is at the heart of the solution."

In practice, this means designing economically viable ways to significantly reduce land-based municipal waste and prevent used plastics from entering the ocean. Creating the right economic conditions will be key so that waste collection and aggregation contributes to local economic growth and job creation.

The center aims to lay out its analysis in a way that stakeholders—plastic producers, consumer-goods companies, municipalities, or waste-picker communities—can use as an objective basis for discussion. Then comes the challenge of working with a community of interested parties to develop and implement a plan. "The real art is contributing McKinsey analysis and problem solving while also tapping the expertise of other organizations," Martin explains.

LINKS
McKinsey Center for Business and Environment
Ocean Conservancy
Fishing for Litter
Waste Free Oceans Foundation
Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean