International Marine Debris Conference

September 18, 2022 September 23, 2022

The 7th International Marine Debris Conference (7IMDC) will build on the momentum of past IMDCs by bringing together governments, industry, academia, civil society, and all relevant stakeholders, to discuss the latest science, strengthen collaborations, find solutions and catalyze action to address the urgent, global problem of marine litter and plastic pollution.

Participants will be able to submit abstracts and posters, attend technical sessions and join field activities to learn more about marine litter and plastic pollution.

There will be many opportunities to network, exchange ideas and learn from each other throughout 7IMDC.

Get inspired by attending exhibitions, movie nights, poster competition, learning how to go zero waste and much more!

Courtenay-Alberni Member of Parliament Gord Johns’ Private Members Motion to combat marine plastics pollution was passed unanimously (288 to 0) in the House of Commons yesterday. The motion calls for a national framework for the reduction and eventual elimination of plastic pollution in aquatic environments.

Plastic Pollution Coalition and The Last Plastic Straw publicly supported the motion and sent letters of support to MP Gord Johns.

“The passage of this motion with a unanimous vote is a tremendous victory for our oceans and coastal communities,” Johns said. “It is a firm acknowledgement that direct and immediate action is required to fill the legislative and regulatory void related to marine plastic pollution in Canada.”

The motion drew on a University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre study, “Seven Reforms to Address Marine Plastic Pollution,” and identifies essential actions to fill what is currently a legislative and regulatory void when it comes to preventing and disposing of plastic pollution in our oceans and other bodies of water.

The recommended actions in the Johns motion include regulatory action aimed at reducing plastic debris discharge from stormwater outfalls and the consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics.

Programmatic actions contained in the motion focus on the need for dedicated, annual funding for the cleanup of derelict fishing gear, community-led projects to clean up plastics and other debris on shores, banks, beaches and other aquatic peripheries, and education and outreach campaigns on the root causes and negative environmental effects of plastic pollution in and around all bodies of water.

“This is the first step in the journey to rid our oceans, beaches, and shores of plastic and other debris,” said MP Johns. “I look forward to continuing this important work on behalf of the people of Courtenay-Alberni and in a continued collaboration with the many environmental groups, local governments, the business community and Canadians everywhere to address this crisis in our marine environment.”

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By Jan Dell, Independent Engineer

Recycling rates for waste plastic are sinking in the United States, so why is recycling still being promoted as the solution to plastic pollution? When stakeholders ask companies to act to reduce plastic pollution, the companies often respond with statements about their commitment to recycling and plans to use recyclable materials for packaging.

The relentless focus on the future path for recycling plastic packaging flies in the face of the hard facts: plastic waste generation is increasing in the U.S., exports counted as recycled have cratered due to China’s ban, costs of recycling are increasing since many trucks are needed to collect the widely dispersed waste, and plastic production expansion is keeping the prices of new plastics comparatively low. These factors work against the key premise that waste plastic will someday have sufficient value to drive reclaiming it rather than disposing of it.

It’s been frequently said: A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We’ve seen promises, goals, ambitions, and aims from companies for nearly 30 years to increase recycled content and reduce the number of plastic bags they hand out. During that time, plastic use and pollution has increased as well-documented by Jenna Jambeck, Roland Geyer, and other researchers. The United States ranks 20th on the list of countries contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean with an estimated 88 to 242 million pounds/year of plastic marine debris. The annual International Coastal Cleanup confirmed the evidence of plastic pollution on U.S. coasts in 2017 when more than 3.7 million pounds of trash, the majority of it plastic, was collected by 209,643 people on a single day.

Participating in a clean up? Visit the Break Free From Plastic Brand Audit Toolkit.

In July 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published solid waste and recycling statistics for 2015. Since we don’t treasure it, it should come as no surprise that it takes so long to measure it. An unwelcome surprise is that U.S. plastic waste generation rose while the amount recycled declined from the previous year. And that happened while China was still importing nearly a million tons of our plastic waste. But that has dramatically changed. According to Resource Recycling, during the first half of 2018, 30 million pounds were exported to China, down from 379 million during the first half of 2017. Plastic waste exports to China are further challenged by China’s new 25 percent tariff on “recovered” plastics, which began on August 23, 2018. Since China isn’t accepting our boatloads of plastic waste any longer, the 2018 U.S. plastic recycling rate must be even lower than in 2015.

Plastic pollution is a blight in our cities and on our landscapes and harms our rivers and oceans. As an independent engineer on a quest to end litter now, I don’t want to wait until 2021 to find out how low our 2018 plastic recycling rate is to dispel the myth that recycling has a practical, probable chance of creating sufficient value for plastic waste that solves pollution. We can’t afford to be distracted from working on serious actions now.

Based on USEPA data, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) trade statistics, and industry news source Recycling Resources, I estimate that the U.S. plastic recycling rate will sink from 9.1% in 2015 to 4.4% in 2018. The recycling rate could drop to 2.9% in 2019 if other countries in Asia follow China’s path on import bans or the proposed Basel Convention amendment prohibits the U.S. from shipping plastic waste to those countries.

While it’s not possible to make an exact prediction, this is a solid engineering estimate of material flows based on historical data and current events. Perhaps the recycling rate will be slightly higher if exports increase or, even better, plastic waste generation decreases.

Most importantly, the projected <5% U.S. plastic recycling rate in 2018 should be a wake-up call to the false promise that the existing voluntary, economic-driven U.S. recycling system is a credible solution to plastic pollution. It’s time to implement real solutions to plastic pollution, particularly the reduction of single use plastics in “on-the-go” situations that have the highest likelihood of polluting our environment. Practical solutions include ending the distribution of plastic bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene foam containers from fast food and retail operations. A proven way to reduce plastic bottle pollution exists and could be implemented today: beverage and retail companies should be mandated to operate reverse vending machines and incentivize container return everywhere that they sell beverages in plastic bottles.

Projection Basis and Assumptions:

The traceable account of the plastic waste generation and recycling rates is provided below. It has been peer reviewed by a diverse group of people working in the environmental arena. The author welcomes being informed of other relevant and credible datasets that may change the estimation and will update the calculation and this article as appropriate.

U.S. Plastic Recycling Rate

Calculation Basis:

1)  Total U.S. plastic waste generation grows 3.8% per year (2015 vs 2014 growth rate from USEPA) from 34.5 million tons in 2015 to 38.5 million tons in 2018.

2)  U.S. plastic recycled remains equal to 2015 (0.94 million tons).  There is no solid evidence that plastic recycling capacity or company purchases have increased since 2015.  Conversely, according to the 2016 NAPCOR PET Container Recycling Activity report, 7 of 28 PET recyclers shutdown removing 16.6% of processing capacity.  The economics of plastic recycling will continue to be challenged by expansion of new, cheap plastic production on U.S. Gulf Coast (as acknowledged by the Plastics Industry Association in a study of polyethylene film recycling)

3)  U.S. plastic waste composting weight remains at zero because industrial composting facilities for municipal solid waste are not available in the U.S.

4)  U.S. plastic waste burned for energy generation remains equal to 2015 because new waste-to-energy facilities have not come online and some have closed.

5)  2018: China has imported only 150 million pounds of plastic waste from U.S. (according to Resource Recycling citing U.S. export figures).

6)  2018: Other countries import same waste plastic weights as in 2017.  This is a reasonable estimate because while several countries initially increased imports, they are now issuing temporary bans and import restrictions.

7)  2019: China and Hong Kong import zero plastic waste from U.S.

8)  2019: Other Southeast Asian countries import zero plastic waste from U.S. due to their own concerns on environmental degradation and/or restrictions by Basel Convention (proposed by Norway).

*An earlier version of this article misattributed the insanity quote to Albert Einstein.

Jan Dell, PE,  is a registered chemical engineer and author of The Last Beach Cleanup (to be published in 2019). Jan has worked with companies in diverse industries to implement sustainable business and climate resiliency practices in their operations, communities and supply chains in more than 40 countries. Appointed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jan was a member of the U.S. Federal Committee that led the 3rd National Climate Assessment from 2010 to 2014 and the Vice Chair of the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee on the Sustained National Climate Assessment in 2016-2017. Send her an email here.

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Take the pledge! Refuse single-use plastic.

At the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego, California, U.S.-based members of the global movement, #breakfreefromplastic, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, rallied in front of the venue with a 12-foot banner screening the message, “to stop plastic pollution, stop making plastic.” The group called for an end to single-use plastic products, which are used for minutes and persist in the environment forever.

Members of the movement said industry’s response to the plastic problem is to downgrade it to merely a waste management issue, and put the onus on municipalities and citizens to bear the cost of dealing with the plastic pollution that plastic producers and consumer brands create. Attempts to soften the realities of plastic pollution by relabelling it “marine debris” misleads the public– plastic is not a waste management issue. Without significantly reducing the amount of plastic produced, we cannot hope to solve the issue of marine plastic pollution.

“We know, from picking up the trash off of our beaches and out of the coastal waters, that this problem is not a waste management issue that requires ‘end of pipe’ solutions, but that the problem of plastic pollution starts with the materials that are used and the single-use approach to product packaging and food service.  We have to move away from single-use plastic,” said Angela Howe, Esq. Legal Director for Surfrider Foundation.  

According to a recent report by the Center for International Environmental Law, based on investments in petrochemical infrastructure, plastic production is slated to increase by 40% in the coming decade. In the U.S. alone, 264 new plastics-related facilities and expansions are currently planned, stemming from the shale fracking boom. Without significant intervention, the plastic the amount of plastic on the planet will quadruple by 2050, and no waste management system will be able to contain the ensuing pollution.  To date, only 9% of plastic ever created has been recycled.

“Single-use plastic pollutes throughout its life cycle, beginning with extraction and refining and ending up in our waterways and oceans,” said Kate Melges of Greenpeace. “We know that low-income communities, particularly communities of color, disproportionately face the impacts of corporate polluters’ quest for cheap and convenient products. companies must reduce throwaway plastic immediately for our oceans and our communities.”

“Ending the ‘throwaway’ culture has co-benefits of reducing climate change impacts caused by oil and gas extraction, plastics production, and incinerating plastic waste,” said Miriam Gordon of Upstream Policy. “In addition, cutting consumption of plastics reduces our exposure to cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting plasticizers that leach from packaging into food and beverages.”

Instead of heeding international calls for less plastic in the marketplace, the plastic industry is instead pushing false solutions like plastic burning. “The plastic industry tends to champion such schemes as ‘waste-to-energy,’ gasification, and pyrolysis as solutions to the plastic problem,” said Monica Wilson, Research Director at GAIA. “These methods require ongoing extraction of resources as they fail to keep valuable materials in a circular economy, and they have been known to create harmful emissions like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and greenhouse gases. Far from solving the problem, burning plastic creates new ones.”

6IMDC included plenary talks from leaders in the plastic pollution sphere from more than 50 different countries. For the first time, the conference included a panel discussion on Environmental Justice where participants discussed the need to work with communities of color across the world on the issue of plastic pollution.

In another panel, Plastic Pollution Coalition gave a preview of a global toolkit on legislation to reduce plastic pollution, created in collaboration with Coalition members. 

During the closing plenary, musician and activist Jack Johnson, a PPC notable member, said he wanted people to take away a positive message. “My main goal is to write love songs– sometimes to make people fall in love with each other, sometimes to  make them fall in love with the ocean.”

Organizations who are part of the Break Free From Plastic movement represent a global community of advocates and stakeholders working in solidarity to stop plastic pollution at all points in the system, from extraction to disposal.

Take the pledge to refuse single-use plastic.

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By NOAA Marine Debris 

The Fourth of July is coming up and if you’re lucky, you’ll be celebrating for the long weekend! As you enjoy the holiday and the summer weather, make sure you think of our environment and what you can do to keep your celebration debris-free.

Take these tips into consideration when planning your festivities:

1. Celebrate responsibly. Handle fireworks with care and dispose of them properly. Think twice before releasing balloons as part of your celebration—they can cause a tangled mess.

2. Avoid unnecessary single-use products like many plastic items and work to reduce your trash footprint. Bring your own water bottle to your Fourth of July picnic, use reusable plates and utensils, and shop for supplies with reusable bags! Simple steps like these can help reduce waste and trash that can end up in our waterways.

3. Dispose of waste properly. If you can’t reuse it, make sure to recycle when possible.

4. Spend part of your holiday volunteering at a cleanup! Party-goers can leave behind tons of trash, but you can help prevent it from becoming marine debris by joining a local cleanup. Or organize one with friends and family (and track your finds with the Marine Debris Tracker app)!

Have a fun, safe, and clean Fourth of July weekend!

Don’t leave debris like these plastic plugs behind after your celebration. These plastic plugs come from different types of fireworks, mostly rockets. (Photo Credit: Ellen Anderson)

This article was originally published on NOAA Marine Debris. 

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