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A year on from Blue Planet II, what has been done to tackle plastic pollution?

Posted on Dec 28, 2018 9:15:00 AM

 tortoise"We know there is still more to do, but we are making progress and are determined to maintain our momentum."

Natural historian David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary caused a storm when it was released a year ago. It has shaken up politicians, businesses and consumers to tackle the issue of plastic litter ending up in the world’s ocean. The world has seen businesses take action on plastic straws and consumers have started using reusable bottles.

What other impacts have we seen from this documentary?

The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative (WOI), in its capacity as a convener of discussions between governments, business and civil society on the greatest challenges facing the seas, has gathered the thoughts of those who have responded to last year’s call to action.

Read the key highlights below:

The circular economy is here: An area of key interest has been how to stop plastics going into oceans in the first place highlighting the concept of the circular economy and the infrastructure behind recycling. “Businesses and governments around the world are increasingly recognising the need to tackle the root causes of plastic pollution, not just the symptoms. In October we saw more than 250 organisations, representing over 20% of the plastic packaging market, sign up to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and its circular economy vision, in which we eliminate the plastic we don’t need and innovate so all plastic we do need stays in the economy and out of the ocean,” said Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of trustees at Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It is not just about single-use plastics: This year, the issue of ‘ghost gear’ - fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded, and is the most harmful form of marine debris - has also gained profile. “To date, the issue of ocean plastics has traditionally been dominated by conversations surrounding single-use plastics, like straws and water bottles. But recently, new research has also amplified the far-reaching ghost gear problem, with estimates that ghost gear makes up as much as 46 – 70% of all macro plastics in the oceans by weight. Over the last year, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative has seen an enormous influx of members wanting to become part of the alliance; more desire than ever from governments and corporates to invest in scaling up and replicating solutions; and United Nations bodies wanting to support training and awareness raising to prevent more gear from being lost,” said Ingrid Giskes, global head of sea change campaign at World Animal Protection and Chair of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

Everyone from consumers to large corporates is engaged: “We’re reshaping how we shop, cook and eat as we become increasingly mindful of the effect on the planet. Our research in this year's Food & Drink Report has shown that nearly nine in 10 people (88%) who saw that episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II about the effect of plastics on our oceans have changed their behaviour since. Sixty percent of us now choose a refillable water bottle and coffee cup more than we did, and Waitrose has seen an 800% increase in questions about plastics from customers. This is why we've recently brought forward our target to make all our own-brand packaging widely-recycled, reusable or home compostable from 2025 to 2023. We know there is still more to do, but we are making progress and are determined to maintain our momentum,” said Tor Harris, head of CSR, health & agriculture at Waitrose & Partners.

“In this divisive time, it is encouraging to me that people around the world are putting aside their differences and recognising that we need to work together in new ways if we want to keep our oceans and our coastal communities healthy. Not just for us, but for the next generation. We have a responsibility to ensure that all the world’s children can have the opportunity to experience all the wonders of the ocean through a mask and a snorkel, and not just through the glass of an Aquarium or via video. I am humbled to be part of a growing global movement working below the water to demonstrate it’s possible to restore a coral reef and enable the communities and businesses which depend on them for their livelihoods to be an active part of it,” said Frank Mars of Mars Incorporated.

Is ‘blue finance’ coming of age? “2018 certainly seems to have been a year when the tipping point for ocean innovation and importantly, responsible investment, has been reached. In June of this year we held a first close for our Sustainable Ocean Fund that provides investor access to a blended portfolio of ocean projects, ranging from sustainable fishing to plastics waste management, whilst offering an attractive financial return. Investment dollars are now flowing and people are paying attention,” said David Barley, Investment Director at Mirova Natural Capital.

The conclusion drawing from the ocean community including businesses, NGOs and multilateral organisations is that the year has certainly seen increased awareness and engagement.

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Visit: World Bio Markets, 1st-3rd April 2019, Amsterdam.

NEW! And available to download: Issue #12 of the Bio-Based World Quarterly.

Topics: Plastics and Packaging

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About the Author

Liz Gyekye
Liz Gyekye
Liz has spent more than ten years working in the waste management and bioenergy sector as a more