Plastics in the Ocean: Challenges and Solutions

Plastics in the Ocean: Challenges and Solutions

With around eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year, recent estimates suggest that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Its presence on shorelines, in surface waters and in the deep ocean, poses a significant threat to global marine ecosystems, even in the remote Polar Regions. Due to their breakdown in the environment, plastics can interact with marine life both physically and chemically. Physically, larger plastics can cause entanglements and obstructions and in their smallest form they can be easily consumed by organisms at the base of the food chain. Chemically, plastics have been shown to readily absorb other toxic pollutants in the ocean and are often manufactured with additives which can increase their toxicity. This has implications for marine life, including commercial fish and shellfish species which ultimately may pose a threat to human health.

Marine sampling efforts, increasing media awareness through series like BBC Blue Planet II and scientific research on the damaging effects of plastics in the ocean have highlighted the extent of the problem, have led to direct action by governments and industry to restrict the use of specific plastic items such as microbeads, bags, cotton buds and straws, and have catalysed ambitious commitments in the UK and beyond to phase out the use of non-essential plastics (e.g. the UK and Vanuatu are leading the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance). Much relevant research and progress is underway, but effectively addressing ocean plastic pollution requires a multi-disciplinary approach with engagement from a range of sectors. The aim of this event was to bring together representatives from business, non-governmental organisations (NGO), science and policy sectors to collectively explore solutions for reducing and mitigating ocean plastic pollution.

Through presentations, panel discussions and innovation showcases this workshop aimed to:

– Facilitate knowledge exchange in order to identify/highlight gaps and future actions required;

– Generate solutions-driven networking to identify opportunities for collaboration.

The morning session, highlighting the key issues and how business, NGOs and the science community are responding, is summarised in Part 1 of this report. The lunchtime “Solutions Showcase” provided an opportunity for short presentations and demonstrations on avoiding single-use plastic; reducing marine plastic pollution; and general underpinning of solutions. The afternoon session was co-organised by BAS and CCI, and took the form of an expert panel from DEFRA, WRAP, UNEP-WCMC, Green Alliance and University of Cambridge (chaired by Dr Abigail Entwistle, Fauna & Flora International). The discussion focused on regulatory and policy solutions and is summarised in Part 2 of this report.

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