Mass production of plastics has accelerated so rapidly that it has created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, of which 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, according to research. Only nine percent of it has been recycled, and 79 percent of the plastic waste is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter, a National Geographic article notes. At some point, much of it consequently ends up in the ocean.
“We all knew there was a rapid and extreme increase in plastic production from 1950 until now, but actually quantifying the cumulative number for all plastic ever made was quite shocking,” Jenna Jambeck, associate professor, Center for Circular Materials Management, New Materials Institute, University of Georgia, says in the article. “This kind of increase would ‘break’ any system that was not prepared for it, and this is why we have seen leakage from global waste systems into the oceans.”
The research led by Jambeck, an environmental engineer who specializes in studying plastic waste in the oceans, two years ago found that an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste entered the ocean in 2010, and if trends do not change, more than 150 million tons of plastic waste will have entered the ocean by 2025, National Geographic reports. This poses not only a threat to vital ocean ecosystems, including critical fish nurseries and coral reefs, but it also adversely affects the health and longevity of marine species and humans.
With that research in mind, I was interested to learn that Dell, General Motors, Trek Bicycle, Interface, Van de Sant, Humanscale, Bureo and Herman Miller are collaborating to form a consortium called NextWave to develop a global, scalable and operational supply chain that reduces the amount of plastic entering ocean. Additionally, each company agrees to test integration of ocean-bound plastic into products or packaging and reduce source plastic across their operations and supply chain. Additional supporting members of the group include UN Environment, 5Gyres Institute, Zoological Society of London and New Materials Institute.
NextWave says its members will share responsibility in development of a sustainable model that reduces ocean-bound plastic pollution at scale, while creating an economic and social benefit for multiple stakeholders. In addition, the group will ensure that the resulting supply chain has the infrastructure and support necessary to meet demand as well as align with globally approved social and environmental standards. Finally, the initiative will confirm the integrity of the supply chain and resulting product integration through chain-of-custody compliance and external, third-party verification of impact. NextWave anticipates that together, the companies will divert more than three million pounds of plastics from entering the ocean within five years—the equivalent to keeping 66 million water bottles from washing out to sea.
“I’m excited to see the private sector step up and take an active role in addressing the challenges of marine debris,” Jambeck said at a NextWave event. “By changing the way we think about waste, valuing the management of it and establishing groups such as [NextWave] that create an economically viable and scalable model, we can catalyze the development of infrastructure including new jobs and opportunities for economic innovation while improving the living conditions and health for millions of people around the world.”
Marine litter, and plastic, specifically, is on the rise. What are your thoughts on how a consortium such as NextWave can help address the problem?