A network of 90 NGOs from around the world including big names such as Greenpeace, Oceana, the Story of Stuff Project, GAIA, 5Gyres and Clean Water Action have come together to launch a massive global movement to achieve a “future free from plastic pollution.” Under the banner Break Free From Plastic, the group aims to change society’s perception and use of plastics, as well as identify and pursue solutions that reduce and prevent plastic pollution.
“This is the first time that groups from all around the world have come together to find a common solution to plastic pollution,” said Monica Wilson from GAIA. “It shows the evolution of a movement that is pushing governments, cities and major companies to solve this ever-growing problem. This isn’t just about managing the problem. It’s about preventing it in the first place.”
The environmental impacts of plastic pollution are well understood and have serious implications. For instance, scientists have predicted that without urgent action, plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050, threatening marine biodiversity and posing a risk to human health.
Single-use disposable applications are largely to blame; nearly a third of plastic packaging escapes collection systems and ends up in oceans. This plastic debris typically breaks down into smaller particles called microplastics, which can concentrate toxic chemicals and be ingested by marine life—all the way up the food chain and onto our plates. One study found that microplastics and man-made fibers are already turning up in about a quarter of fish sold at markets in the United States (U.S.) and Indonesia.
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Break Free From Plastic also called plastic “a human rights issue,” with the rationale plastic packaging that is sold into markets with inadequate waste management systems can cause various issues for local communities, often affecting vulnerable populations the most. Even in the U.S., the group notes, a significant amount of plastic ends up in incinerators and landfills which frequently endanger nearby low income communities and communities of color.
“Any strategy to combat the plague of plastic needs buy-in from both frontline communities in the Global South and in the Global North,” said Stiv Wilson from the Story of Stuff Project. “For the first time in history, that is happening. This is what a movement looks like.”
“For years, the plastics industry has been telling us that all plastics are recyclable, but what we find in the field demonstrates that we can not recycle our way out of the plastic pollution problem,” said Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center, which runs the United State’s longest-operating curbside recycling program and is another of the NGOs backing the movement.
The group is calling on U.S. corporations and governments to “lead the way,” saying that major consumer goods corporations headquartered here are driving the irresponsible use of plastics and resulting environmental damage, and that a strong, coordinated policy effort is needed from policymakers. Otherwise, they believe that “businesses will continue to use plastic indiscriminately and the pollution will intensify.”
To help spread the movement and recruit support from consumers, the group is building an email list and using the hashtag #BreakFreeFromPlastic on social media.