Why is the global governance of plastic failing the oceans?

On some measures, the global governance of plastic is improving. Curbside recycling and community cleanups are increasing. Companies like Toyota, Walmart, and Procter & Gamble are reducing waste to landfill. And all around the world, as research consolidates and activism intensifies, towns, cities, and legislatures are banning some uses of plastic, such as for grocery bags and as microbeads in consumer products. Yet the amount of plastic flowing into the oceans is on track to double from 2010 to 2025. Why? Partly, the dispersal, durability, and mobility of microplastics make governance extremely hard. At the same time, the difficulty of governing plastic has been rising as production accelerates, consumption globalizes, pollution sources diversify, and international trade obscures responsibility. As pressures and complexities mount, the global governance of plastic – characterized by fragmented authority, weak international institutions, uneven regulations, uncoordinated policies, and business-oriented solutions – is failing to rein in marine plastic pollution. In large part, as this article demonstrates, this governance landscape reflects industry efforts to resist government regulation, deflect accountability, and thwart critics, coupled with industry advocacy of corporate self-regulation and consumer responsibility as principles of governance. These findings confirm the need for more hard-hitting domestic regulation of industry as well as an international plastics treaty to scale up local reforms.

Peter Dauvergne, Global Environmental Change, Volume 51, July 2018, Pages 22-31

The article


The unaccountability case of plastic pellet pollution

Plastic preproduction pellets are found in environmental samples all over the world and their presence is often linked to spills during production and transportation. To better understand how these pellets end up in the environment we assessed the release of plastic pellets from a polyethylene production site in a case study area on the Swedish west coast. The case study encompasses; field measurements to evaluate the level of pollution and pathways, models and drifters to investigate the potential spread and a revision of the legal framework and the company permits. This case study show that millions of pellets are released from the production site annually but also that there are national and international legal frameworks that if implemented could help prevent these spills. Bearing in mind the negative effects observed by plastic pollution there is an urgent need to increase the responsibility and accountability of these spills.

Therese M. Karlsson, Lars Arneborg, Göran Broström and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 129, Issue 1, April 2018, Pages 52–60

The article

Can the Basel and Stockholm Conventions provide a global framework to reduce the impact of marine plastic litter?

The issues resulting from plastic waste in the marine environment have highlighted a general failure to control this pollutant on both land and at sea. The international community is now realising that the increasing growth in the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean is reaching a critical point. This has led to a questioning of the current international governance arrangements for marine litter. The environmental and socio-economic impacts of marine litter are a symptom of policy failures and greater action is required “upstream” by industry on land to reduce these impacts. The Stockholm and Basel Conventions are international binding instruments that offer the best opportunity to reduce the impacts of plastics and plastic waste globally. We examine weaknesses in how hazardous wastes are categorised and the options to close the gaps in the current framework that allow for and keep pace with innovation. Both conventions are found to be inadequate to manage the entire lifecycle of all plastic applications. Options are suggested for strengthening the international legal and policy framework in order to reduce on a global scale 1) the quantity of plastic waste generated, and 2) the hazard of plastics throughout their lifecycle.

Karen Raubenheimer, Alistair McIlgorm, Marine Policy, Available online 1 February 2018, In Press

The article

Plastic Waste: a European strategy to protect the planet, defend our citizens and empower our industries

The strategy will protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation, turning a challenge into a positive agenda for the future of Europe. There is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU and by taking the lead in this transition, we will create new investment opportunities and jobs. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. (…)

European Commission, 16/01/2018

Plastic microbeads ban enters force in UK

Manufacturing ban means the tiny beads which harm marine life can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care product.

Plastic microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK, after a long-promised ban came into effect on Tuesday. The ban initially bars the manufacture of such products and a ban on sales will follow in July. (…) (theguardian.com, 9/01/2018)

The news

Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management

The Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management was developed during the Conferencia Internacional de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida en Latinoamérica, which took place from 12–15 June in Medellin, Colombia. The Declaration calls for an improved handling of plastic resources and is meant to encourage researchers and relevant stakeholders to develop new methodologies to address marine litter better within Life Cycle Assessments.

The declaration has been co-authored by various stakeholders present at the conference and has been revised in an online-consultation process until the 18th of July. The global life cycle community is invited to join the Medelling Declaration, which is available for signature on the FSLCI website at: https://fslci.org/medellindeclaration

Guido Sonnemann, Sonia Valdivia, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, , Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 1637–1639

The article

Characterisation of plastic microbeads in facial scrubs and their estimated emissions in Mainland China

Plastic microbeads are often added to personal care and cosmetic products (PCCPs) as an abrasive agent in exfoliants. These beads have been reported to contaminate the aquatic environment and are sufficiently small to be readily ingested by aquatic organisms. Plastic microbeads can be directly released into the aquatic environment with domestic sewage if no sewage treatment is provided, and they can also escape from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) because of incomplete removal. However, the emissions of microbeads from these two sources have never been estimated for China, and no regulation has been imposed on the use of plastic microbeads in PCCPs. Therefore, in this study, we aimed to estimate the annual microbead emissions in Mainland China from both direct emissions and WWTP emissions. Nine facial scrubs were purchased, and the microbeads in the scrubs were extracted and enumerated. The microbead density in those products ranged from 5219 to 50,391 particles/g, with an average of 20,860 particles/g. Direct emissions arising from the use of facial scrubs were estimated using this average density number, population data, facial scrub usage rate, sewage treatment rate, and a few conservative assumptions. WWTP emissions were calculated by multiplying the annual treated sewage volume and estimated microbead density in sewage. We estimated that, on average, 209.7 trillion microbeads (306.9 tonnes) are emitted into the aquatic environment in Mainland China every year. More than 80% of the emissions originate from incomplete removal in WWTPs, and the remaining 20% is derived from direct emissions. Although the weight of the emitted microbeads only accounts for approximately 0.03% of the plastic waste input into the ocean from China, the number of microbeads emitted far exceeds the previous estimate of plastic debris (>330 μm) on the world’s sea surface. Immediate actions are required to prevent plastic microbeads from entering the aquatic environment.

Pui Kwan Cheung, Lincoln Fok, Water Research, Volume 122, 1 October 2017, Pages 53–61

The article