The environment took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this year. Global leaders from around the world — from international organizations, governments, civil society, and the private sector — convened in New York City to discuss solutions to pressing environmental challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Amidst the broad discussions about the need for all parties – citizens, governments, civil society and the private sector – to do their part, the private sector is leading, taking real actions to drive measurable process on environmentally-focused SDGs, including the fight against marine plastic litter. This is a pressing challenge, caused by unmanaged plastic waste in our oceans, that speaks directly to two key SDGs: SDG 12 and SDG 14. SDG 12 aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns to reduce waste, and SDG 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources to protect aquatic life.
Plastics have helped improve living standards, hygiene and nutrition around the world, especially in developing countries. Yet used plastics – particularly unmanaged plastic waste flowing into the world’s oceans – have become a global environmental challenge. The bad news? At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.
The good news? We know how to tackle the challenge.
Today, just ten rivers, located primarily in southeast Asia, transport 88-95 percent of global plastic waste into the sea. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the biggest obstacle to stopping plastic waste from ending up in our oceans is poor waste management infrastructure, especially in developing nations. If we are serious about addressing plastic waste in the environment, stakeholders from across the spectrum must put their heads together and take real action. No one country, company, or community can solve this on their own, and there is no single answer to the issue. The private sector is – and must be – a fundamental ally and partner in driving effective solutions to these challenges, promoting waste management infrastructure, education and engagement, technology, and clean-up efforts. In fact, the private sector is already spearheading initiatives to address this. Here are a few examples of how businesses have committed themselves to eradicating marine litter:
- Global Companies Pledged $1.5 Billion To Address Plastic Waste: An alliance of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain launched the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean. The cross value chain Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), currently made up of nearly thirty member companies, has committed over $1.0 billion with the goal of investing $1.5 billion over the next five years to help end plastic waste in the environment. The Alliance will develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste and promote solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy. The Alliance membership represents global companies located throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
- European Companies Launched An Initiative To Raise Awareness Of Marine Litter: Established in 2014 and with over 60 organizations, including major retailers and conservation groups, the Marine Litter Action Network works to raise awareness of marine litter, share best practices, and build upon existing marine conservation campaigns. So far, it has focused on issues such as removing plastic microbeads from personal care products, researching sources of marine litter, preventing sewage related debris from reaching the marine environment, and transforming ocean plastics into new products. MLAN has brought together 1.7 million individuals, 38,000 volunteers, and more than 11,000 companies, groups, and organizations.
- Singaporean Companies Joined A World Wildlife Fund Pledge To Curb Plastic Waste: In early 2019, a diverse group of companies in Singapore voluntarily pledged to reduce plastic use and production by 2030 as part of PACT (Plastic ACTion), an initiative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) supported by Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA). As part of the commitment, businesses will ensure minimal use of plastics and try to recycle more plastics than they typically produce. Moreover, many will look into product and packaging redesign to reduce plastic usage. Large companies that have pledged plastic reduction include AccorHotels Group, Hilton Singapore, Conrad Centennial Singapore, Kraftwich, Pastamania, Udders, Capella Singapore, Regent Singapore, Ramada and Days Hotels by Wyndham Singapore at Zhongshan Park, SaladStop!, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
- Kaneka Created A Biodegradable Polymer To Help Curb Plastic Waste: An international chemical manufacturing company based in Osaka has an ongoing commitment to resolve micro-plastic and waste management issues, in addition to fostering a more sustainable living environment. Recognizing growing social demand, the company worked for years to create a biodegradable polymer that is 100% plant-derived and more durable than other biodegradable plastics, which tend to be more fragile than traditional plastics. The technology is now used in plastic bags, and Kaneka plans to scale up production to meet a growing demand for sustainable solutions for the environment.
Solving the plastic waste issue is not just an environmental and moral imperative – it’s an economic one too. Capturing plastic waste before it reaches the ocean would cut environmental costs by over $2.1 billion.
The private sector is already leading the way with innovative partnerships to stop plastic waste from entering our oceans. If we are to successfully curb marine litter and achieve SDG 12 and 14, international leaders must recognize the central role the private sector can play. Leveraging the strengths and expertise of the private sector will be the key to success.