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


Optimising beached litter monitoring protocols through aerial imagery

The monitoring of beached litter along the coast is an onerous obligation enshrined within a number of legislative frameworks (e.g. the MSFD) and which requires substantial human resources in the field. Through this study, we have optimised the protocol for the monitoring of the same litter along coastal stretches within an MPA in the Maltese Islands through aerial drones, with the aim of generating density maps for the beached litter, of assisting in the identification of the same litter and of mainstreaming this type of methodology within national and regional monitoring programmes for marine litter. Concurrent and concomitant in situ monitoring of beached litter enabled us to ground truth the aerial imagery results. Results were finally discussed within the context of current and future MSFD monitoring obligations, with considerations made on possible future policy implications.

A. Deidun, A. Gauci, S. Lagorio, F. Galgani, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 131, Part A, June 2018, Pages 212–217

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

Addressing the Issue of Microplastics in the Wake of the Microbead-Free Waters Act—A New Standard Can Facilitate Improved Policy

The United States Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into law in December 2015. It is a bipartisan agreement that will eliminate one preventable source of microplastic pollution in the United States. Still, the bill is criticized for being too limited in scope, and also for discouraging the development of biodegradable alternatives that ultimately are needed to solve the bigger issue of plastics in the environment. Due to a lack of an acknowledged, appropriate standard for environmentally safe microplastics, the bill banned all plastic microbeads in selected cosmetic products. Here, we review the history of the legislation and how it relates to the issue of microplastic pollution in general, and we suggest a framework for a standard (which we call “Ecocyclable”) that includes relative requirements related to toxicity, bioaccumulation, and degradation/assimilation into the natural carbon cycle. We suggest that such a standard will facilitate future regulation and legislation to reduce pollution while also encouraging innovation of sustainable technologies.

Jason P. McDevitt, Craig S. Criddle, Molly Morse, Robert C. Hale, Charles B. Bott, Chelsea M. Rochman, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (12), pp 6611–6617

The article

Is the Montreal Protocol a model that can help solve the global marine plastic debris problem?

The impacts of plastic debris on the marine environment have gained the attention of the global community. Although the plastic debris problem presents in the oceans, the failure to control land-based plastic waste is the primary cause of these marine environmental impacts. Plastics in the ocean are mainly a land policy issue, yet the regulation of marine plastic debris from land-based sources is a substantial gap within the international policy framework. Regulating different plastics at the final product level is difficult to implement. Instead, the Montreal Protocol may serve as a model to protect the global ocean common, by reducing the production of virgin material within the plastics industry and by regulating both the polymers and chemical additives as controlled substances at a global level. Similar to the Montreal Protocol, national production and consumption of this virgin content can be calculated, providing an opportunity for the introduction of phased targets to reduce and eliminate the agreed substances to be controlled. The international trade of feedstock materials that do not meet the agreed minimum standards can be restricted. The aim of such an agreement would be to encourage private investment in the collection, sorting and recycling of post-consumer material for reuse as feedstock, thereby contributing to the circular economy. The proposed model is not without its challenges, particularly when calculating costs and benefits, but is worthy of further consideration by the international community in the face of the global threats posed to the ocean by plastics.

Karen Raubenheimer, Alistair McIlgorm, Marine Policy, Volume 81, July 2017, Pages 322–329

The article

Plastic pollution challenges in marine and coastal environments: from local to global governance

Plastic pollution in the marine and coastal environment is a challenging restoration and governance issue. Similar to many environmental problems, marine plastic pollution is transboundary and therefore the governance solutions are complex. Although the marine environment is unlikely to return to the condition it was in before the “plastic era,” it is an example of an environmental restoration challenge where successful governance and environmental stewardship would likely result in a healthier global oceanic ecosystem. We argue that a holistic, integrated approach that utilizes scientific expertise, community participation, and market-based strategies is needed to significantly reduce the global plastic pollution problem.

J. Vince, B. D. Hardesty, Restoration Ecology, Volume 25, Issue 1, January 2017, Pages 123–128

The article

Is existing legislation fit-for-purpose to achieve Good Environmental Status in European seas?

Recent additions to marine environmental legislation are usually designed to fill gaps in protection and management, build on existing practices or correct deficiencies in previous instruments. Article 13 of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires Member States to develop a Programme of Measures (PoM) by 2015, to meet the objective of Good Environmental Status (GES) for their waters by 2020. This review explores key maritime-related policies with the aim to identify the opportunities and threats that they pose for the achievement of GES. It specifically examines how Member States have relied on and will integrate existing legislation and policies to implement their PoM and the potential opportunities and difficulties associated with this. Using case studies of three Member States, other external impediments to achieving GES are discussed including uses and users of the marine environment who are not governed by the MSFD, and gives recommendations for overcoming barriers.

Suzanne J. Boyes, Michael Elliott, Arantza Murillas-Maza, Nadia Papadopoulou, Maria C. Uyarra, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 111, Issues 1–2, 15 October 2016, Pages 18–32

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