Plastic pollution is so pervasive that it is found in seafood, bottled water, beer, and table salt, and even in the air.
Ingestion of plastics by marine organisms may be acting as a pathway for the transfer of harmful contaminants through food-webs, with biological implications for all life affected.
Plastics contribute to global climate change through carbon emissions during extraction, production, and end-of-life processes.
Aside from the ecological burden, the economic costs of plastic pollution affecting the tourism, fisheries, and shipping sectors is estimated to be at least USD$8 billion annually.
The problems of plastic pollution are being met with an array of mitigation strategies at multiple levels of governance, including discussions of international agreements and initiatives in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This flurry of action reflects the urgency of the situation.
However, little work is being done to evaluate the impact of the array of actions being proposed and implemented. Without an understanding of how existing and potential solutions reduce the extent and severity of the plastic pollution problem, we risk wasting vast quantities of money, time, and social and political capital in attempting to preserve the integrity of the world’s ecosystems.
We are the Plastic Pollution Emissions Working Group. We are conducting an evaluation of the effectiveness of at least 18 plastic pollution management interventions – from bans or social change, to broad scale investment in waste management in developing economies and the implementation of a circular plastic economy, and the cleanup of existing post-consumer plastic waste, including abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear from the environment.
Our analyses will support and inform countries with diverse resource availabilities and uniquely local sources of plastic debris, as they quantify their own plastics emissions and choose mitigation strategies.
Why is this important?
At the moment there is little information about the efficacy of current management interventions and how they vary across geographies. Importantly, mitigation strategies effective in one region/economy may be more or less effective in another. These data gaps limit the development of the most effective toolbox of solutions, at multiple geographic scales, economies and levels of governance. Our efforts will contribute to building a powerful tool to estimate the effectiveness of a multitude of proposed plastic pollution mitigation strategies across geographies.
Our aim is to: 1) provide a country-level quantitative assessment of marine plastic pollution using empirical data and statistical modelling techniques to quantify the flow of plastic from production through the waste management system, and into the environment;
2) estimate the effectiveness of existing and proposed management strategies or interventions aimed at reducing plastic emissions to the environment;
3) provide a scientifically robust tool to measure if the initiatives under SDG 14.1 are being achieved, simultaneously providing an indicator of reductions to ocean debris levels over time, and;
4) provide a qualitative assessment through further analysis of each scenario. That is, a mitigation strategy may have externalities. For example, a scenario in which bottle water usage is reduced to address plastic pollution, the required infrastructure to provide potable water may also contribute to improved health outcomes and gender equity.