Legal, Plastic Pollution
October 11 2013

Final Marine Debris Strategy Released!

by Angela Howe

The West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health ("WCGA") released their Final Marine Debris Strategy this week, with Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, state and federal governments, industry and academia all contributing to the process.  The goal of the strategy is to lay out a plan to effectively address ocean pollution with an ultimate visions of zero waste entering the marine environment from land, and zero impact from any debris entering the ocean.

Specifically, this strategy was the result of over three years of collaboration by the WCGA Marine Debris Action Coordination Team.  In addition to laying out a regional framework for action to reduce and prevent marine debris, this document also:

  • characterizes the problem of ocean trash;
  • lays out goals and objectives of the strategy,
  • identifies barriers and challenges to achieving zero impact from ocean trash;
  • recommends action for land-based debris, derelict fishing gear, and cross-cutting issues;
  • highlights several projects to facilitate recommended actions; and
  • creates a timeline for future deliverables.

On page 4 of the document, plastic pollution is called out specifically as the most common and caustic type of marine litter world-wide.  The strategy document also offers a toolbox of actions that may be implemented collaboratively or individually to reach the goal of zero trash.  Specifically, for land-based debris, the strategy recommends (1) identifying and leveraging existing policies, such as California's trash policy to reduct trash in stormwater; (2) reducing and preventing most commponly found debris items, such as cigarette butt litter; (3) building strong partnerships with industry, through efforts like Extended Producer Responsibility; (4) working with waste management and municipalities to prevent the debris from entering the enviornment; and (5) supporting improved enforcement of existing laws.

Major barriers and challenges were identified as funding, policy, and lack of data and information.  The strategy document offers suggestions for policy implementation efforts and will also help establish the marine debris database to address the problem of data gaps. Additionally, there is a strategy deliverable timeline for creating target reductions (percentage decrease in marine debris) and milestones for those target reductions by December of this year.

Finally, the Marine Debris Strategy offers a wonderful Appendix listing current projects and case studies that can inform future action. It references the San Francisco bag ban, Seattle's polystyrene ban, and Hawaii's smoking ban in Hanauma Bay.  The Appendix also covers Extended producer Reposibility and other statewide legislative efforts.  Overall, the Strategy can be used as a great resource on the issue of marine debris, as well as a roadmap for future action.