An estimated 150 million metric tons of plastic waste are in the ocean today and every year around eight million metric tons more are being added. Earlier this year, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans if a more effective system for global plastics is not put into place. More recently, a study by the State University of New York at Fredonia and the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health revealed that the global drinking water supply is now contaminated with plastic fibers, further illustrating the scope of the plastics problem. But the world isn’t sitting still. The public and private sectors are increasingly taking action to eliminate plastic pollution in the sea.
Last Wednesday in Nairobi, over 200 countries signed a UN resolution to monitor the amount of plastic they put into the ocean, increase recycling and initiate measures that protect natural resources and prevent plastics from finding their way into the world’s oceans. Though not legally binding, the resolution has created a sense of urgency and energy behind the issue. At the same time, the German environment agency announced plans to call for an EU-wide ban on microplastics in cosmetics.
UN Environment is also backing a new initiative launched by Dell Inc., General Motors, Trek Bicycle, Interface, Van de Sant, Humanscale, Bureo and Herman Miller to develop the first-ever commercial-scale ocean-bound plastics supply chain called NextWave.
NextWave members will together develop a sustainable model that reduces ocean-bound plastic pollution at scale, while creating an economic and social benefit for multiple stakeholders. The group will ensure that the resulting supply chain has the infrastructure and support necessary to meet demand as well as align with globally approved social and environmental standards. In addition, the initiative will confirm the integrity of the supply chain and resulting product integration through chain-of-custody compliance and external, third-party verification of impact. The Lonely Whale, an NGO focused on facilitating collaborations, consumer campaigns and market-based solutions that positively impact the health of the oceans, will convene the group. Additional supporting members include 5Gyres Institute, Zoological Society of London and New Materials Institute.
As part of their commitment, members will evaluate and prioritize opportunities for plastics reductions across operations, shipping and receiving, events, guest experiences, manufacturing and supplier engagement. Members are also encouraged to sign up to the Clean Seas campaign.
NextWave is anticipated to divert more than three million pounds of plastics from entering the ocean within five years, the equivalent of keeping 66 million water bottles from washing out to sea.
“I am excited to see the private sector step up and take an active role in addressing the challenges of marine debris. By changing the way we think about waste, valuing the management of it and establishing groups such as this that create an economically viable and scalable model, we can catalyze the development of infrastructure including new jobs and opportunities for economic innovation while improving the living conditions and health for millions of people around the world,” said Jenna Jambeck, associate professor at the University of Georgia New Materials Institute Center for Circular Materials Management.
The initiative was born out of the existing relationship between Dell and the Lonely Whale. In 2015, Dell partnered with Adrian Grenier, founder of Lonely Whale, to educate companies and consumers on the dangers of ocean plastics through the Lonely Whale VR experience. Dell launched its first ocean-bound plastic packaging pilot in February 2017 and assisted with the launch of the UN Environment Programme’s Clean Seas initiative, which has led to more than 33 countries taking action to reduce marine litter. In June, Dell and Lonely Whale addressed the United Nations at the 2017 UN Ocean Conference, where Dell pledged its commitment to UN SDG Goal 14.
“The oceans are facing a plastic pandemic and it is critical for companies to take ownership for their supply chains and for consumers to be aware of how their everyday choices can have a lasting legacy,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director of United Nations Environment. “We welcome Dell and Lonely Whale for organizing this working group and spearheading what we hope will be a catalyst to innovation that can only be achieved by working together.”
“Collaboration is critical to addressing the issue of ocean plastic at scale. I’m thrilled to partner closely with leaders across industries to advance our collective interest in creating solutions that create value from waste,” said Kevin Brown, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Dell.