Editor’s Note: After our recent story about the annual International Coastal Cleanup sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, we got several comments saying it would be better to write about such things before they happen rather than afterwards. We agree. So we reached out to the Ocean Conservancy and asked to be notified when they have news to report. The following story is the first fruit of that collaboration.
Nearly half of the estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic that flow into the world’s ocean every year originate in just five rapidly developing economies in Asia — Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and China. At its recent Our Ocean 2017 conference, the Ocean Conservancy announced it is seeking to raise over $150 million in new funding to prevent plastic waste from leaking in to our ocean. The money will be used to design and build waste management and recycling systems in Southeast Asia. The focus will be on investments to improve collection, sorting and recycling markets.
“This is a major breakthrough in the fight for trash-free seas,” said Susan Ruffo, managing director of international initiatives at Ocean Conservancy. “Our research has found that by improving waste management in Southeast Asian countries, we can cut the flow of plastic going in the ocean by half by 2025. A funding mechanism will take this goal from dream to reality, and support efforts by governments and local groups on the ground to improve their livelihoods and well-being while also improving ocean health.”
The new funding mechanism will be operated by Closed Loop Partners, an investment firm that focuses on companies, technology and recycling facilities that turn waste products into valuable resources. Demonstrating that such waste management systems can be successful in developing countries will attract other private and public actors to support other recycling efforts.
“Through this initiative, we will invest in and support the municipalities, entrepreneurs, investors and NGOs working to reduce ocean plastics and improve waste management in Southeast Asia,” said Rob Kaplan of Closed Loop Partners. “Our investments across North America — from recycling collection in Tennessee to developing new end markets for waste plastics in Louisiana — have resulted in tangible improvements to waste collection and recycling.
The new Ocean Conservancy initiative addressed the root causes of plastics in the ocean by investing in the systems and emerging technologies needed to capture and transform waste into valuable commodities before it reaches marine environments. The goal is to make waste collection and recycling profitable so there is a positive incentive not to discard plastic refuse in the rivers that flow through Southeast Asia and carry the floating detritus out to sea.
The initiative is supported by several partners, including the Trash Free Seas Alliance, Closed Loop Partners, PepsiCo, 3M, Procter & Gamble, the American Chemistry Council, and the World Plastics Council.
“P&G is proud to be a part of this initiative,” said Jack McAneny, director of sustainability at Procter & Gamble. “Plastics play an important role in commerce, but they clearly don’t belong in our waterways and oceans. Thanks to the vision of Ocean Conservancy, we now have a multi-stakeholder collaborative effort that can drive the kind of innovation and scale that we need to stop the flow of plastics to the environment and ideally give these materials a second life.”
The Ocean Conservancy and its partners expect to share the results of the initial phase of work within the next year. It expects the results will help increase the number of people and organizations interested in investing in plastic recycling systems and technology.
Graphic credits: Ocean Conservancy.
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