Many people are aware of plastic pollution in the oceans. Photos of turtles or seabirds entangled in plastic garbage first went viral in the 1990s, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now the focus of highly publicized cleanup efforts.
Less recognized is how marine plastic waste affects human populations, and the unequal burden on different communities. A report, "Towards an Equitable Approach to Marine Plastics Pollution," outlines the current situation and attempts to address the problem.
"We all benefit from plastics, but some people are paying more of the external costs in terms of the environmental damage, well-being issues and just horrendous scenes that they must live with in places they call home," said project leader Yoshitaka Ota, a University of Washington professor of practice in marine and environmental affairs and director of The Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center.
Increasingly, the greenhouse gases causing climate change are seen as an issue in which some countries produce most of the pollution while other countries or groups are more at risk from the long-term consequences. Plastic pollution, this report argues, is a similar issue for coastal communities.
The report, published in late November, includes 31 authors from nine countries. It incorporates case studies and analyses from around the world as well as larger, overarching recommendations for change.
The authors conclude that coastal communities most affected by marine plastic pollution should be better represented in drafting potential solutions. A free, virtual event in March will bring together stakeholders from around the world to draw up a road map for an equity-focused path to address marine plastics.
The Ocean Nexus Center was founded in 2019 as a 10-year initiative based in UW EarthLab that includes more than 20 member universities and organizations around the world. Its mission is to bring together equity and justice in the oceans on a global scale.
The recently published report covers topics such as:
"Coca-Cola is the world's biggest producer of plastic waste, and it serves as a case study of how multinational corporations engage in waste reduction and corporate social responsibility," said lead author Jessica Vandenberg, a UW postdoctoral researcher in marine and environmental affairs who wrote the analysis of Coca-Cola's initiative.
"As we highlight in the report, one of the key actions we see as imperative for addressing marine plastic pollution is refocusing the problem as one of plastics production, rather than as an issue of waste management," Vandenberg said.
Mari Shibuya, a Seattle-based artist, created digital watercolor paintings that appear throughout the document. The report is funded by The Nippon Foundation and is intended to be an accessible, comprehensive summary of the issue that can be read by policymakers, educators and other audiences, Ota said.
The March event will bring together audiences to implement the report's main recommendations. Visit The Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center website to find forthcoming event details.
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