From local to global action, saving the ocean requires re-thinking our relationship with single-use plastic

Posted on: June 8, 2018

Sr. Environmental Specialist


Close shot of garbage on an empty beach
When it comes to marine plastics, at the GEF we’re thinking big about systems change and we’re not working alone. Working with partners as diverse as the World Bank, Rare and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, we’ve provided over $1B toward sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, pollution abatement and many other ocean initiatives.

You might care about the 100,000 marine mammals that die annually from plastic and you may be one of the 25 million viewers of the infamous straw-up-the-sea turtle nose video. Or it may simply be that you don’t want to eat and drink plastic, swim in trash or witness more shoreline devastation from flooding and hurricane force damage.

Yes, we all love the ocean - what’s not to love? Marine ecosystems provide delicious seafood, serene walks on the beach, surreal diving and snorkeling, a kid-heavenly splash zone and protection from storms and the all-important although more ephemeral carbon sequestration, not to mention jobs and food security for over a billion people.  

If you’re like me and love the ocean, then no doubt you too want to ensure it is healthy forever for you, other people, your kids, their kids, their kids’ kids…

The tricky part is HOW?! How do we keep the ocean healthy and, therefore, ourselves happy?

The other day my family went to dinner and as the waiter approached my six-year-old bellowed for the entire restaurant’s benefit, “No straws please! We love the ocean!”.

“You go girl” I thought as I jumped in to explain the hazards of marine plastic pollution and politely asked the waiter to share my suggestion to minimize single-use plastic with the manager.

Clearly, I believe in speaking up. I also believe in collective action, scaling-up and partnerships. I’m fortunate that my day job is working for an organization that does just that!

At the Global Environment Facility (GEF), we’ve been investing in ocean sustainability throughout our history, working to bring nations together to manage shared oceans.

Working with partners as diverse as the World Bank, Rare and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, we’ve provided over $1B toward sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, pollution abatement and many other ocean initiatives to secure healthy marine ecosystems and the wealth of services they provide.

When it comes to marine plastics, at the GEF we’re embracing systems thinking and we’re not working alone. We believe that isolated and fragmented measures (e.g. clean-ups, less bags, more garbage trucks) are not sufficient.

To stem the tide, we must work across the entire life cycle of plastic from material and design engineering to consumer behavior to collection and recycling. We are committed to the “circular economy” approach, which is essentially promoting closed loop production and consumption through the 5 Rs: rethink, redesign, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The added benefit of this circular economy approach to marine plastics is that it not only reduces marine debris, but also cuts greenhouse gas emissions through reduced fossil fuel extraction; decreases  hazardous chemical emissions through both improved end-of-life practices to capture and properly dispose of these substances as well as  through the use or production of redesigned materials and products.

We’re equally committed to partnerships across the public-private sectors by engaging governments and businesses.

Most recently we invested in a $2 million project with UN Environment, the Ocean Conservancy and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to build a global alliance across the entire plastic value chain. The New Plastic Economy Initiative, which includes major companies that produce, process and use plastics, as well as governments, aims to seek out solutions to managing waste and has galvanized 11 companies, including Coca-Cola, Ikea and Unilever, to commit to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.

Now back to my wonderfully bold daughters and our dinner adventures. Tonight, we are going to find "green" restaurants to patronize. The lesson I teach them is a crucial one - “Shopping is voting” is a principle we all need to embrace. And that our future happiness, and happiness of our kids, and the kids of our kids, and their kids depends on taking action at local to global scales now.

Add new comment