11 August 2020
Experts Emphasize Private Sector’s Role in Combating Marine Litter
Photo Credit: Celia Kujala
story highlights

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) held a side event on engaging industry to tackle marine litter and achieve SDG 14 (life below water).

A spike in the use of single-use plastics due to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this threat.

Speakers advocated for beginning negotiations on a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution, among other recommendations.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) held a side event on engaging industry to tackle marine litter and achieve SDG 14 (life below water). The event convened on the sidelines of the 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF), which took place virtually.

Plastic litter threatens the environment, human health, and business in marine and coastal settings. A spike in the use of single-use plastics due to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this threat. Industry and the private sector play a crucial role in combating marine litter, with innovations on modes of production and consumption, waste management, and digital approaches.

Entrepreneurs and innovators are well positioned to develop new methods and technologies to deal with plastic PPE waste.

The side event titled, Engaging Industry through the Global Partnership on Marine Litter to deliver SDG 14, highlighted the need for more action on marine litter and provided examples on industry engagement. UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told participants that, in 2015, only 9% of plastics was recycled, and damage from debris in the Asia-Pacific region totaled around USD 11 billion. She pointed to a resurgence in single-use plastic products with increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic. To combat marine litter and plastic pollution, Andersen stressed the importance of: multilateralism and partnerships; engaging industry along the entire value chain; managing and recycling plastic waste from COVID-19; and reversing or halting production of single-use plastic products. 

Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norway’s Minister of International Development, said two billion people lack access to waste management. He noted Norway’s programme to reduce marine litter in developing countries and a multilateral trust fund for healthy oceans, to which Norway provided the initial contribution. Ulstein said the Nordic Ministers of Environment Climate produced a report on possible elements of a new global treaty on marine litter. He expressed hope that, during the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), countries would determine a path for such an agreement. He mentioned a forthcoming report from Norway on how industry can create a framework for healthy oceans.
 
Sabine Pahl, University of Plymouth, provided an overview of global actions to reduce the flow of marine plastic and microplastic to the ocean. She noted the voluntary reporting of 158 actions, 119 of which involve partnerships. She said an interactive dashboard and repository is under development to facilitate information sharing.
 
Simon Bennett, China Navigation Company (CNCo) and Swire Pacific Offshore Operations, described the Moana Taka Partnership, which CNCo established with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment (SPREP). The Partnership enables CNCo ships to carry recyclable waste from Pacific island ports, at no cost, to be sustainably treated and recycled in suitable ports in the Asia-Pacific region. He encouraged other shipping companies to adopt similar modalities, including in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions.
 
Susan Ruffo, Executive Director, Circulate Initiative, suggested engaging with entrepreneurs and innovators, who are well positioned to develop new methods and technologies to deal with PPE as a result of COVID-19.
 
Other speakers included representatives from:

  • WWF South Africa, who advocated for beginning negotiations on a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution;
  • the UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat, who stressed the need to fully engage industry and the private sector to achieve SDG 14;
  • IBM, who urged “thinking big, starting small and scaling fast,” using innovation and digital tools such as AI to provide guidance on preventing marine litter, and connecting stakeholders through a multi-sector collaboration platform; and
  • the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, who underscored the need to unlock more investment focused on infrastructure, innovation, education, and clean-up. 

Wallace Cosgrow, Seychelles’ Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and Co-Chair of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML), noted that because “the entire value chain of plastic is a transboundary issue,” on-the-ground work must merge to form a shared vision. He urged governments to achieve SDGs 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 14, particularly those Goals’ targets related to reducing waste regeneration.

The event took place held on 14 July 2020, in a virtual format due to COVID-19. [Webinar recording]


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