Our Ocean Conference: Emerging Themes and Solutions to Plastic Pollution

By Lark Starkey

Plastic – the word on so many lips during the 4th International Our Ocean Conference held in Malta last week. Plastic and it’s harm to oceans, communities, health, and economies. But as EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella succinctly and powerfully summarized: “This event is about solutions.”

And solutions are rapidly emerging, both in response to the specific threat of plastic pollution, and the broader six priority areas of Our Ocean Conference that addressed marine pollution, marine protected areas, climate change, sustainable fisheries, sustainable blue economy, and maritime security. Solutions emerging and evolving from actors from more than 112 countries and six continents. Solutions resulting in over 400 commitments to concrete action from governments, NGOs, businesses, foundations, and research institutes. Commitments investing over U.S. $7 billion in the future of our oceans worldwide.

But back to plastics, and the refrain that emerged throughout Our Ocean Conference.

It’s international – because plastic pollution ignores national lines, solutions must also.

As a small sampling of global action, Our Ocean Conference saw commitments that expanded the capacity of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter; promised to eliminate plastic straws and single-use-take-away plastic bags in aquariums through the Aquarium Conservation Partnership; and Indonesia’s commitment to the Alliance for Marine Plastic Solutions.

It’s ubiquitous – The threat is not constricted to “marine pollution”.

Just like plastic pollution ranges from arctic seas to uninhabited islands, the recognition of the threat of plastic pollution was address in commitments emerging from organizations in all priority areas, including sustainable blue economy and marine protected areas. As Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission recapped, “Plastic is increasingly discussed on a level parallel to climate change… there can be no more take, make, use, dispose mentality.”

It’s solvable ­­­– Plastic pollution is caused by humans and can be solved by humans, but must be addressed at every level: individual action, innovation, corporate responsibility, and government policy.

For example….

  • Afroz Shah commits to continue his “date with the ocean” through community-led clean-ups of Mumbai’s beaches.
  • Think Beyond Plastic, in collaboration with California State University at Monterey Bay, commits to develop an innovation center focused on accelerating the new plastics economy.
  • Sky News commits to removing all single-use plastic from its operations, products, and supply chain by 2020 through the “Sky Ocean Rescue” campaign.
  • Malta commits to introducing a beverage-container-refund scheme by 2020 to ensure 70% of plastic bottles generated on its islands are recovered.

As actor and ocean activist Adriane Grenier advocates, we’ve got to “stop sucking”, #StopSucking that is. Because just as a disposable plastic straw is connected to a disposable plastic lid and cup, our individual and organizational actions are connected to a wider movement for change.

For a full overview of Our Ocean Conference commitments to positive ocean check out the map.

Lark Starkey holds an M.A.S in Marine Conservation and Biodiversity from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She works at the intersection between science, policy, and communications to advocate for positive ocean action.


Changing Planet

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