Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Cleaning Up the Oceans

The world depends on healthy oceans. However, the oceans and marine environment are being threatened by ever increasing amounts of trash flowing into the ocean, particularly from China and a few other Asian countries.

Image from NOAA

Roughly 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources: littering, dumping, storm waste discharges and extreme natural events. Five countries in Asia—China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—account for over half of the plastic waste placed into the ocean. A recent study estimates up to 95% of plastic waste transported by major rivers starts from just 10 rivers—eight of them located in Asia, with the top polluting rivers being in China. It is to be recalled; however, that until 2017 China was the largest market that accepted recycled products from the United States so our waste has to some extent contributed to their problems.

Scientists estimate that more than 9,000 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced since the dawn of the age of plastics and found that around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. The amount of plastic waste keeps growing and proper management of that waste has not kept up. The United States is better than many at managing waste, today; but we need to improve our recycling our plastic and reduce our use of plastics. The United States still generate too much litter and storm carried trash. Year after year volunteers clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and are carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways.

To truly solve this problem on an international level, we must prevent trash from entering the earth’s waterways in the first place. All treaties among nations must include environmental clauses beyond carbon reduction. Earlier this month the U.S. EPA unveiled the U.S. Strategy for Addressing the Global Issue of Marine Litter, which provides a strategic model to prevent and reduce waste from entering our oceans. The U.S. EPA has developed a set of waste management recommendations that address the global marine litter problem, with a focus on four pillars:

  1. Building capacity for better waste and litter management systems, through improving infrastructure, government coordination, and public education and engagement.
  2.  Incentivizing the global recycling market in partnership with the private sector.
  3. Promoting research and development for innovative solutions and technology.
  4. Promoting marine litter removal, including litter capture systems in seas, rivers and inland waterways.

EPA modeled their international outreach on the Trash Free Waters  program  designed to address the marine litter problems by using these pillars to create a framework that specifically addresses national and local needs while working to protect the planet as a whole. Trash Free Waters International brings together national and local governments, communities, NGOs, and the private sector to identify marine litter problems and prioritize interventions that are cost-effective, practical and impactful.

Although the Trash Free Waters program began here in the United States, marine litter exists everywhere, and economically developing countries especially need experienced assistance that the United States can provide. As a result, Trash Free Waters has expanded its mission to other nations in the Western Hemisphere. Projects in Jamaica, Panama and Peru are providing national governments with practical steps to understand and address the marine litter issue holistically, including how waste is managed, identifying gaps within their waste management systems, and prioritizing project implementation.

These countries are leveraging the help EPA has offered to develop and improve local trash collection and recycling systems, raise community awareness, and implement educational programs in schools. All approaches that have worked in the United States. The goal is to move from pilot international programs to implementation worldwide.   The Trash Free Waters stakeholder-based process helps attract larger investments critical to establishing an economically sustainable and environmentally sound waste management system.

Solving the marine litter problem requires a global and comprehensive approach that includes the public sector, the private sector, NGOs, and society at-large. EPA has been working with other federal agencies to engage countries through a number of international settings like the G7 and G20 Environmental Ministers’ meetings, the North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, the Cartagena Convention’s Land Based Sources Protocol and the United Nations Environment Assembly. Expanding these partnerships and sharing ideas to find better ways to prevent and reduce marine waste to protect human health and our shared oceans.


1 comment:

  1. Environmental Monitoring Programs (EMPs) are established for a number of agencies like North State Environmental throughout the United States.