A new report from the United Nations’ High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP) suggests that improving water supply, especially in developing nations, would have a significant positive effect on the amount of plastic waste dumped in oceans.
The problem of extensive plastic waste in oceans, largely exposed in recent years, has led to widespread efforts to clean up what is already there. However, the report calls for introduction of preventive measures to also take a priority.
Ocean pollution, in general, arises from four major sources: municipal, agricultural and aquacultural, industrial and maritime. The assessment indicates that the amount of plastic in oceans is growing and that this trend reflects a number of societal changes including the lack of access to sanitation and wastewater and stormwater treatment.
Better water supply would reduce the need for plastic bottles; better solid waste removal and wastewater and stormwater management would prevent the plastic from getting into rivers, and subsequently the sea.
The panel’s conclusions have been supported by other experts who also call for urgent action to improve water supply and sewage services around the world, with the knock-on effect of improving health and poverty.
In the near-term the panel has recommended that countries should focus on collection and recycling of plastic bottles, concomitant with building the much longer-term but necessary water networks to supply safe water and remove and treat wastewater.
The paper proposes seven approaches for the reduction of pollutants in the ocean: improve wastewater management; improve stormwater management; adopt green chemistry practices and new materials (to substitute for plastic); implement coastal zone improvements; practice radical resource efficiency; recover and recycle whenever and wherever possible; and build local systems for safe food and water.
Each of the approaches identified are cross-sectoral and system-level in nature, and the panel has suggested that these approaches are very credible candidates for delivery through public-private partnerships, innovative financing arrangements and leveraging capital from a range of sources.
The High Level Panel brings together serving heads of government who recognize that economic production and Ocean protection must be mutually supporting if we are to “produce, protect and prosper.”
Members of the Panel represent countries large and small, and at all stages of development, with special attention to low-income countries, small island states, and communities that rely on the Ocean for their survival. This diversity extends to the Expert Group, Advisory Network and Secretariat who will support the Panel with analytical work, communications and stakeholder engagement.
The Secretariat is based at World Resources Institute, which has created a team of globally-recognized experts on Ocean economics, governance, technology and science.