Local Victories to End Plastic Pollution and Protect our Oceans lead to Global Opportunity at Rio+20
Posted May 29, 2012 in Reviving the World's Oceans
The world’s environmental problems can seem overwhelming, but I often find hope and inspiration in local victories. Local victories, when aggregated, can lead to major global change by informing, motivating and spurring action from leaders the world over.
An excellent example of local victories inspiring global action is the effort to stem the tide of plastic pollution that plagues our rivers, coasts, and oceans.
Last week, clean seas advocates won a major victory in California when Los Angeles became the largest city in the United States to ban plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines. This law will phase out plastic bags from 7,500 stores in a city of roughly 3.8 million people.
Plastic that ends up as pollution in the ocean (sometimes known as "marine debris") has serious consequences for marine life and possibly for the food chain and human health. Hundreds of species and thousands of individual animals -- including significant numbers of endangered species such as Hawaiian monk seals and every species of turtle -- have been killed or seriously harmed by being entangled or ingesting plastics.
A California sea lion entangled and injured by discarded fishing line. Image courtesy: Marine Photobank, © 1990 Bob Talbot, LegaSea Project
Plastic bags are among the most problematic forms of plastic pollution because they are so lightweight and commonly blow out into the environment. It cost cities significant amounts of money to remove them from clogged storm drains and beaches. They are one of the most difficult forms of plastic packaging to recycle, which is why stronger controls are needed.
The solutions advanced in places like Los Angeles can be shared and adopted in cities, states, and even nations around the world. To create this local-to-global solution network, NRDC launched a campaign, the Global Call and Commitment to End Plastic Pollution, to provide a platform for sharing commitments from governments, business, and organizations, which we will showcase at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. Examples of pledges that can be made include the following::
- Government and businesses can commit to enacting laws and policies that make the producers of packaging responsible for recycling it at the end of its useful life. This creates an incentive to use less packaging or it helps create more recyclable packaging. These kinds of laws are in place throughout Canada and the European Union.
- Some products, like plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers, are so difficult to clean up or recycle, they have been banned or phased out in favor of reusable materials. These measures are in place in many locations, from many U.S. cities to Rwanda to parts of China, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and the Philippines.
- Public education and good alternatives to disposable plastics are also needed to shift consumer behavior, but consumers and taxpayers need businesses and government to create better choices.
We are excited to showcase some of these solutions at an event called the Plasticity Forum at the Rio+20 Summit, on Thursday June 21. Whether you can attend the Earth Summit or not, you can encourage your leaders in government, business, and organizations to join the Global Call and Commitment to End Plastic Pollution.
NRDC is advocating for the collection of all of the promises made by communities, corporations, and countries at the Earth Summit into what we calling the Cloud of Commitments. This is a web-based platform that will enable the world to start to track the progress we are making towards a sustainable future. This is the kind of real action that will make Rio+20 a success.
Creative public education from our friends at Heal the Bay.
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