The Need: Plastics are found in thousands of products, and with investment in plastic production capacity increasing, its uses are becoming increasingly more complex, and the problem of plastic waste continues to grow. Plastic materials are too complex and too customized to contribute to a true circular economy. There have also been numerous risks identified as various plastic products or applications leach chemicals into food or drink when exposed to heat or cold, affecting humans, animals, and the environment. In addition, plastic can become a vector for other toxins, bacteria and viruses.
The Solution: The Ocean Foundation continues to work within the international governance arena to shift the conversation from why plastics are so problematic and to a solution driven approach to re-examine the way plastics are made from the production stage so that plastic materials can actually be more readily recycled. In addition to becoming a member of the US Plastics Pact, The Ocean Foundation is an accredited observer to the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) and is actively engaged in the process to develop a new international agreement to end plastic pollution. There is an undeniable link between the United States’ domestic policies to combat the plastic pollution crises and what occurs within international governance processes such as the negotiations for a plastics treaty. The Ocean Foundation pursues policies that aim to drastically reduce the number of products made of plastic materials; and for where plastics are still necessary, they will be made of more simplified and standardized formulations so that the products will better lend themselves into a circular economy model.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve?
TARGET 1: Define a list of packaging that is to be designated as problematic or unnecessary by 2021 and take measures to eliminate them by 2025
TARGET 2: 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
What makes it particularly smart or circular? At The Ocean Foundation, we have seen a hyper-focus on downstream solutions, without prioritizing some of the key elements that makes most plastic materials unrecyclable under our current waste management infrastructure mechanisms. By examining opportunities in redesign at the production stage of plastic, we can effectively increase the number of materials on the market that can be safely recycled. This, in addition to improving downstream solutions, could act as a catalyst to propel the prevention of plastic waste from entering our environment.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: Although the organization has worked on plastic pollution issues on an ad hoc basis for the last 11 years, it has only been a year since it has had a full-time program to advance the organization’s priorities. Our policy work is ongoing, but it is too premature to share lessons learned or key takeaways at this stage.
Quote: “It is time to stop putting the burden on solving the plastic pollution crisis solely on consumers and communities, and start pushing governments and industry to look at upstream solutions that will systematically reduce the amount of plastic waste getting into our environment.” Erica Nuñez, Program Officer, The Ocean Foundation