A child walking along a path in his coastal fishing village quenches his thirst and then drops his plastic water bottle in a ditch. Where else would he put it? There are no trash cans where he lives and no rubbish collection service. With the next big rain the bottle will get washed away into a stream, and from there a river and then quickly into the ocean.
What many don’t realise is that 80% of the plastic in our oceans has entered via land. It hasn’t dropped off fishing boats or flown overboard from cruise ships, it’s been washed or blown into the sea from a source on land. Ground-breaking research by Dr. Jenna Jambek in 2015 found that by far the majority of plastic in our ocean has come from within a 50km (30 mile) radius of the shore and coined the term ‘Ocean Bound Plastic’ (OBP) to describe this pollution. While it may seem that the problem is then relatively well-contained to a small portion of the world’s total landmass, over two billion people live within that range. That’s a quarter of the world’s population. People have over generations and centuries built their cities, fishing villages and livelihoods close to the ocean shoreline. The ocean provides food and livelihoods, cultural and spiritual enhancement, and waste detoxification. It is also a highly efficient carbon sink.
For centuries, humans have chosen to build societies close to water because it is essential for agriculture, transport, trade and of course, life itself. From New York to Kolkata, London to Shanghai, almost every major city (and population hub) sits alongside a river, lake or ocean which means there’s a lot of plastic used and discarded in close proximity to them.
How much of a problem is this? Jambek’s extensive modelling suggests approximately 8 million metric tonnes of Ocean Bound Plastic enters the sea every year, which she says is “the equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries we examined.” Can you picture that?
In the vast majority of the countries where most of this ‘mismanaged plastic’ pollution originates, there is limited or no waste management infrastructure. These economies can’t afford to collect and dispose of this plastic properly, let alone recycle it.
If we are going to have any hope of halting the decline in our ocean health, we must stop more plastic from making its way in. Once that plastic enters the ocean it not only begins to wreck havoc on sea life and marine ecosystems, but also becomes incredibly difficult to remove. What is somewhat easier, is to capture and divert that plastic pollution BEFORE it gets in there.That’s where initiatives such as the Better Packaging Co.’s ‘POLLAST!C’ can make a huge impact. POLLAST!C is a range of packaging made from 100% Ocean Bound Plastic pollution.
The focus for Better Packaging Co.’s OBP collection is located in South East Asia, which is also where the bulk of the current Ocean Bound Plastic crisis is. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are responsible for more Ocean Bound Plastic than the rest of the world combined – although it is not entirely their fault. Up until 2019, many Western countries were shipping their plastic waste to these countries, some of which was likely ending up in the ocean because they couldn’t recycle it domestically.
By creating a range of mailers (mailing satchels), poly bags, labelopes and more, Better Packaging Co. is developing a market for Ocean Bound Plastic and ensuring that the economics stack up. If they can treat pollution as a valuable resource, they can turn a negative into a positive and reward people with a proper wage, in these affected communities to scour their beaches and waterways for plastic pollution and collect it. Better Packaging Co. is effectively creating waste management and recycling systems in regions of the world, where they are not currently provided by local or central government. It truly is “a social solution to plastic pollution.”
Recommended reading: UN EP Report; ‘Environmental Justice Impacts of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution’