Ocean-bound plastic (OBP), defined as plastic waste that is at risk of ending up in the ocean, make up over 80 percent of the debris found in surface waters and deep-sea sediments today.
Non-commercially recyclable plastic waste accounts for a majority of the OBP and is largely found within 50 km from shores, where waste management processes are inefficient or non-existent.
Collaboration is the only pathway to reduce this mounting burden of OBP. According to the UN Environment Program, without immediate action, marine plastic pollution could double by 2040. This calls for a strategic shift to an ambitious combination of technology interventions to help reduce marine plastic litter.
India’s efforts to mitigate ocean plastic pollution must start with its rivers, such as the Ganges, which is ranked as one of the top 10 rivers inputting plastic into the ocean. While fisheries, aquaculture, and nautical activities contribute to marine plastic pollution, 80 percent of the plastic is accrued from land-based sources due to a lack of appropriate management strategy to address plastic packaging waste.
The enormity of the problem is often hidden from public view as just 0.5 percent of OBP float on the surface while the coastline, seafloor, and open sea waters are vastly affected. This underpins the need for continued awareness building among the public and industry stakeholders, especially among coastal-lined cities.
In addition, it is crucial to embrace the role of the circular economy in mitigating marine pollution, whereby used plastic is effectively and efficiently recovered and reprocessed. Every stakeholder, including industries, businesses, consumers and regulators, has a role to play in this.
For example, plastic packaging manufacturers must consider the use of recyclable and compostable materials in the design stage, as well as focus on the design of products that use single or fewer polymers that can be easily separated during recycling. Products created from OBP include plastic jewellery, skateboards, fleece for jackets, running shoes, sunglasses, kayak etc.
Further, investing in waste collection and waste management infrastructure will avoid dispersion of OBP as well as increased awareness and participation among the community on the need for improved and responsible waste management.
This is where the role of the circular economy can play a central role. An economic model designed to minimize resource input, as well as waste and emission, the circular economy approach to marine plastic management brings a wide array of benefits, not just in helping reduce OBP and conserving marine wealth but also in addressing resource scarcity and mitigating the impact of climate change, especially on coastal regions. Circular polymers, produced through advanced recycling of recovered mixed and used OBP, also help create value for local communities by increasing the demand for recycled plastic.
Building this essential circular polymer value chain, thus, needs collective action. Starting with the efficient collection of OBP and converting it into high-quality manufacturable materials, this vital step to close the loop on marine plastic pollution can be amplified through the creation of new products from circular polymers and encouraging the community to champion the use of more sustainable materials.
Recycling ocean-bound plastics | Sabic
A spirit of collaboration must be at the heart of any transformational impact to address marine plastic pollution. Stakeholders across the value chain must join hands to create value from plastic waste while securing the marine environment for our current and future generations.
(Janardhanan Ramanujalu is the Vice President & Regional Head, SABIC South Asia & ANZ)