Pollution Prevention for Marine Debris to Protect Coastal Economy
Plastic debris injures and kills fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Ocean litter is known to have affected at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species. The impacts include fatalities as a result of ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement.
Because persistent organic pollutants in the marine environment attach to plastic debris, plastic pellets and fragments have been found to be a transport mechanism for toxic substances in the marine environment. Floating and migrating plastic debris has also been found to transport invasive marine species.
Ocean litter – also commonly referred to as “marine debris” – is a persistent and growing problem worldwide.
80% of Debris Comes from Land-Based SourcesDespite the MARPOL international treaty prohibition on dumping plastics at sea, debris in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate. This is due to the fact that 80% of the debris comes from land-based sources, particularly trash and plastic litter in urban runoff, and the generation of trash and waste is increasing.
Four Habitats...Four Kinds of TrashThe Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) have conducted studies to identify and quantify ocean litter in 4 marine habitats: the beach, the ocean bottom, the ocean water column, and the ocean surface.
The environmental impacts associated with ocean litter will vary by habitat with aesthetic issues being more important on beaches, and food web concerns being more significant for the small surface material.
The Cost of Debris Removal
The Economic Impact to Regional EconomiesThe National Ocean Economics Program calculated the value of California’s “ocean-dependent economy” at $46 billion. The largest portion of this figure was attributable to recreation. 17 While California has never assessed the loss of tourism dollars associated with littered beaches and coastal areas, we can look across the country for some sense of what the impact might be. A major release of trash from New York landfills to the ocean caused major debris incidents on New Jersey beaches and resulted in an estimated loss of $1 billion, primarily due to decreased coastal visitation in 1987 and 1988.
The Solutions to Ocean DebrisThe Implementation Strategy organizes specific actions to reduce ocean litter into the following four objectives:
1. Prevent and control litter and plastic debris (changing individual behavior)
2. Reduce single-use plastic packaging and promote sustainable packaging (changing producer behavior)
3. Cleanup and remove litter (engaging communities)
4. Coordinate efforts with other Jurisdictions in the Pacific region (engaging other regions)
Packaging WastePrevention measures are more likely than past litter cleanup efforts Reducing or preventing packaging waste is a key element in reducing litter since packaging waste is the main component of litter. If we generate less packaging, there is less waste available to become ocean litter.
The Steering Committee has identified three priority methods for reducing packaging waste.
Nurdles Discharge Law: AB 258In 2007 Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 258, a bill to stop the discharge of pre-production plastic pellets (known as “nurdles”). AB 258 was introduced as a result of the OPC Resolution, and requires the State Water Board to focus on stopping the discharge of nurdles from those facilities that use them in the production of plastic products. Though small individually (a nurdle is about the size of a grain of rice), collectively they make up 17% of all ocean litter found on our beaches. Removing them from the waste stream will make a significant dent in our overall ocean litter problem.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for PackagingEPR for packaging places the responsibility for collection and disposal of packaging waste on producers of packaging and manufacturers of products that use packaging. By placing physical or financial responsibility for collection and disposal of these wastes on the producer, EPR motivates producers to reduce waste since the producer bears the responsibility to pay to manage the waste that it generates.
The first implementer of EPR for packaging was Germany. Using EPR methods, Germany achieved a 14% reduction in packaging waste in the first 4 years of the program. In addition, Germany has achieved a 75% recycling rate for plastics (the rate in the U.S. is 5.5%21).
Packaging Waste is GrowingGarbage generated in the U.S. is increasingly comprised of packaging waste. According to the U.S. EPA, containers and packaging are the largest component of the municipal solid waste stream (80 million tons or 31.7 %).
Producer take-back of packaging has been implemented in 33 countries around the world. While not all of them have reduced the generation of packaging waste below original levels, most have stopped or significantly slowed the increase in packaging waste generation.
Americans, who comprise 5% of world population, generate 50% of the world’s solid waste.
Plastic Bag ProhibitionsAccording to the Progressive Bag Alliance, 19 billion plastic grocery bags are distributed in California each year and fewer than 5% are recycled, according to the CIWMB.
In 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 2449 (Levine) to increase the recycling of plastic bags.
RECOMMENDATION: California should join the growing list of jurisdictions that have decided to prohibit the sale of single-use plastic bags.
Polystyrene Food Container ProhibitionFoamed plastics are found to be second only to pre-production plastic pellets as the most abundant debris item on Orange County beaches.
RECOMMENDATION: Prohibitions of polystyrene food containers would not reduce all polystyrene debris on California beaches. However, thousands of pounds would be reduced.
Litter prevention funded by a litter feeFood containers and product wrappers that are widely distributed for “free” often end up in the marine environment. If a litter fee were assessed on fast-food drink cups, consumers would be more aware of the environmental costs associated with that product.
SOURCE: The California Ocean Protection Council’s five-year strategic plan was adopted at the June 8, 2006 public meeting. The final publication is available for download: "A Vision for Our Ocean and Coast"
Status of OPC Strategic Plan Actions as of August 2010 download.
In assessing the OPC’s activities in total, the Council has, to some extent, addressed the majority of action items in the strategic plan. Given the number of action items and extremely broad scope of the plan, this represents a significant accomplishment. Most of the action items identify several specific activities for the OPC, or its partners, to undertake. In most cases, the OPC has taken steps to implement some, but not all, of the activities that fall under that action item. Many of the 74 action items involve a supporting role by the OPC, with the primary action to be taken by another agency. In these cases, the OPC could not necessarily ensure that an action item was accomplished.
The fact that the OPC accomplished many of the strategic plan action items does not necessarily mean that the OPC achieved the objectives in the strategic plan. Because of the nature of this first strategic plan, there is no viable means to assess how well the OPC has done in achieving the 24 objectives within the strategic plan. The strategic plan objectives are generally subjective, and not measurable.
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