Plastic Pollution
July 22 2017

THINK GLOBALLY…for a Plastic Free Future

by Angela Howe

We know that 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced, and that half of that material has been made in just the past 13 years, yet the recycling rate is under 10% in the United States. So what is happening internationally to work on this major problem of marine plastic pollution? In the past year and a half, a global movement has emerged called Break Free From Plastic.  Ninety participants from 25 countries met in Legian, Bali this week to discuss how we can implement the Tagatay principles that were coined in 2016.  This movement envisions a future free from plastic, with an abundance of life, not an abundance of plastic. The Break Free From Plastic movement  launched publicly in September and now 800 groups globally are signed on to the platform, and it is growing.

The top strategies of this movement focus on changing corporate and industry behavior, zero waste cities and the circular economy, and changing the dominant narrative around plastic pollution.  For the narrative, we are trying to break away from the story that “plastic waste is a problem of the global south” when it’s actually a problem created by the most consuming nations in the north.  There are also many incredible zero waste change makers in Asia and the South Pacific, which have dramatically helped prevent marine litter.  There are a number of other tactics that fit into these overarching strategies, including Surfrider Foundation’s work on plastic pollution ordinances/legislation and our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.  We are looking forward to plugging into the movement throughout the next year and beyond.

Some other international efforts linked to the Break Free From Plastic movement include:

  • Rethink Plastics work in Europe – This Alliance in Europe is working on changing the policies surrounding single-use plastics, including the country-specific implementations of bag ban laws.
  • Manila Bay Coastal Clean Up – Described as the “mother of all clean ups”, this event is focused on cleaning up Manila Bay, Philippines from September 8th and throughout the next 4 weeks of that month.  It will engage 1500 to 2000 people to help with the work, as well as professional excavators.
  • Indonesia Refill Systems Modeling – Single-use sachets are a major issue in Southeast Asia, with many personal care products and food items apportioned in single-serving packets.  There is an emerging effort to allow for a major change in the culture through promoting refill shops that will hopefully spread throughout Indonesia.
  • Plastic Pollution Ship Tours - In many regions of the world, Greenpeace will also be offering ship tours focusing on education in ocean plastics, scheduled for the Mediterranean, East Asia and Russia in the next year.

In the next few months, here are some events to look forward to on the global stage: International Coastal Clean Up Day on September 16th, Our Ocean Conerence in Malta in October, and International Zero Waste month in January 2018, and the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego in March 2018.

The movement to combat plastic pollution is growing and has become more international and more coordinated than ever before.  If you would like to help make a change globally, act locally through your local Surfrider Chapter’s Rise Above Plastics work.  You can also stay connected to @Surfrider for more information from the Break Free movement as well.