Strategies for Preventing Trash Before it Starts

Session Chairs: Sydney Harris; Samantha Sommer, Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund

This session will review and share strategies, resources, tools, and challenges for developing successful upstream solutions to prevent ocean litter.

Rigorous data can form the basis for effective and measurable policies and practices to address plastic pollution and ocean litter. This session will bring together an interdisciplinary mix of professionals from the solid waste and materials management sector, ocean policy advocates, citizen and academic researchers, and experts in behavior change to discuss leading strategies in upstream waste prevention and best practices to stop marine debris at the source.

There is ample evidence showing single-use disposable food-ware items make up the bulk of land based ocean plastic litter. Those findings point toward source reduction policies and practices because recycling and composting programs not only cannot capture all of the items being used, but all single-use items, whether land-filled, recycled, composted, or littered, use a substantial amount of resources compared to the fewer amount of reusable items that can replace them. Representatives of ReThink Disposable and other organizations will share their experiences and case studies with the costs, benefits, difficulties, and accomplishments they have found in efforts to minimize unnecessary packaging designed for single use and replace disposable items with reusable items.


Reducing marine plastic pollution through innovation and entrepreneurship and leveraging the social enterprise

Session Chairs: Daniella Russo, Think Beyond Plastic; Anne Warner, Think Beyond Plastic

 This session supports the systemic and permanent reduction of marine plastic pollution. This session embraces the theory of design thinking and build the supporting economic engine by harnessing the forces of innovation, entrepreneurship, impact investment, transformative public policy, and civil society.

There is an unprecedented confluence of concern about plastic pollution and its impact on ecosystems, the world ocean, and public health, combined with a notable lack of strategic, scalable, long-term solutions. Existing interventions focused on end-of-pipeline infrastructures such as recycling, incineration, plugging current leakage points, waste-to-oil conversion, etc. are inadequate. At best, they can increase recycling rates, but they are not capable of supporting the explosive rates of production and consumption or the market dynamics of an economy where recycled materials cost more than virgin plastic.

A new approach is required. One that embraces design thinking and focuses on building the economic engine to support systemic, permanent reduction of marine and land-based plastic pollution. This economic engine will eliminate reliance on philanthropy and public funds, the unnecessary and growing investment in waste mitigation, and the toxic impacts of plastic pollution on human health and ecosystems. It means investments in forward-looking innovations, including new materials, new manufacturing processes, new recycling processes, and new design following the principles of a circular economy.

The social enterprise for a targeted geographical area must be developed in collaboration with local partners (NGOs, policymakers, and businesses) and relevant stakeholders and by following an innovation ecosystem approach. Leveraging partnerships is key. Disruptive innovation should be directed toward key problem areas of plastic pollution where consumption is the highest and market failures are the greatest.

Using this model, Think Beyond Plastic launched a pilot project on the Bay Islands of Honduras in December 2015. As a result of the project’s healthy and sustained growth, the pilot is ready to replicate in early 2018 in Cozumel, Mexico and then throughout other communities of the Mesoamerican Reef. The long-term vision for the project is a Mesoamerican Reef free of plastic pollution and a global model for eliminating ocean plastic pollution by developing the underlying economic engine supporting the shift away from conventional plastics to alternatives.  Benefits of this approach include that it: (1) is regenerative by design; (2) produces incremental revenues due to education prompting changes in behavior; (3) promotes synergistic impacts among the environment, economics, and health; and (4) transitions away from the linear economy of use-discard to a circular economy of reuse.

We will present our progressive and holistic approach to the problem of marine plastic pollution through innovation and entrepreneurship using our experiences on the Bay Islands and Mesoamerican Reef as a specific case study. We will share our progress in working toward specific goals, targeted impacts, and deliverables on the project as well as our vision for future expansion to other geographies.

The Elephant in the Room: Addressing Vulnerable Human Populations Impacted by and Contributing to Marine Debris

Session Chair: Sherry Lippiatt, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Albert George, South Carolina Aquarium 

This session will explore strategies to reduce the social and environmental impacts of marine debris affecting and generated by vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable communities struggle with a litany of social issues, which includes being both directly impacted by and a contributing source of litter and marine debris. From trash pickers who rely on collecting discarded scraps to support their families, to poor communities who lack the political influence to say “not in my backyard”, these communities are exposed to many hazards related to mismanaged waste and marine debris. Additionally, debris generated by low-income and homeless populations is a growing problem here in San Diego and across the United States, but also prevalent in Least Developed Countries worldwide. In California, homeless encampments are common in or adjacent to rivers and streams, and a source of a significant amount of marine debris. This is a sensitive topic that should be approached bearing in mind higher priority needs, but a significant source of marine debris that the community should consider.

This session will explore the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues, particularly as it pertains to waste generation and leakage into the marine environment. We invite presentations on efforts and strategies to address litter and marine debris that affect vulnerable communities or are generated by the homeless and those living in poverty, including cleanup programs, effective partnerships across disciplines, and other success stories or lessons learned. Other presentations related to environmental justice and marine debris are also welcome.

Plastic Pollution & Environmental Justice

Session Chairs: Jane Patton, Plastic Pollution Coalition; Genevieve Abedon, Ecoconsult

This panel will be a call to action to all groups engaged in solutions for plastic pollution / marine litter work to engage as equals with communities of color and others that are disproportionately affected to innovate, create, and adopt best practices.

Too often in the plastic pollution / marine litter / ocean conservation / environmental protection fight, the conversations are led by relatively affluent groups, representative of those traditionally in power in their respective countries, who often live and work in coastal areas. We as a global community do not always do the necessary work of valuing the experience, uplifting the innovations, and highlighting the hard-earned successes of other groups and individuals doing the work. We could be and should be doing a better job of engaging and empowering non-traditional allied voices who are a ) disproportionately affected by plastic pollution/marine litter, b) have shown in polling to deeply care about the issue, and c) inland and near non-coastal waterways that eventually lead to the marine environment.

This panel is meant to highlight this and to propose best practices for checking our own biases and ensuring environmental actions and the environmental movement as a whole, locally and globally,       includes all communities affected by, and also equally able to take on the solutions to, global environmental concerns, particularly marine litter/plastic pollution.      

Audience members will be treated to an honest, emotional, deeply important discussion on how this form of bias has oftentimes left out those who are affected by plastic pollution/marine litter, and their voices will be welcomed in deciding on best practices for overcoming it and moving forward. Empower them to take matters into their own hands.

Global Toolkit for Reducing Single Use Packaging and Plastic Pollution through Source Reduction Action

Session Chairs: Jane Patton, Plastic Pollution Coalition; Leslie Tamminen, Seventh Generation Advisors

This session looks at a global toolkit for plastic pollution source reduction actions for regulators and advocates in developing (LDCs and SIDs) and developed sub-nationals/countries.

Nongovernmental environmental organizations Plastic Pollution Coalition and Upstream, in consultation with Seventh Generation Advisors, BreakFreeFromPlastic, Zero Waste Europe, GAIA,  the State of California, and others will introduce a global toolkit for reducing single-use packaging and plastic pollution through source reduction actions. The toolkit is meant for advocates and regulators in developed countries and subnational governments, as well as developing countries, including LDCs and SIDs. The toolkit will focus on actions for integral policies such as Extended Producer Responsibility, and, as of the date of the conference, actions on predominate type of plastic litter such as plastic bags and polystyrene (the toolkit will eventually reach other products such as micro beads, straws, cups, etc.). Meant to be a comprehensive online resource, it will be a compilation of local, state and federal single use plastic bag and polystyrene mandates across the globe, existing ordinances and statues, regulatory effectiveness information, scientific data, legal resources, and community  engagement tools for regulators and for advocates. As a global, non-branded resource, it will necessarily rely upon linkages to multiple other organizations, institutions, and agencies.

It is important for conference attendees to understand how the toolkit is structured, and its utility to their specific situation: panelists will provide a brief introduction about how and why the toolkit was developed (currently, there is not an up-to date, international source reduction compendium resource for regulators and advocates), and an in-depth review of toolkit contents, with specific focus on graphic charts that correlate actions to a specific outcome, and actions to a category of user (e.g.,  developed or developing nation or subnational government). Panelists will also include a summary about prospective additions to the toolkit post conference. Session attendees will gain an understanding about a valuable resource for a wide range of source  reduction actions and policies.

Lose the loop: Global collaboration to reduce and prevent pinniped entanglement in marine debris

Session Chairs: Kim Raum-Suryan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fisheries, Protected Resources Division; Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection

 This session looks at pinniped entanglement in marine debris: Identifying the problem, methods to reduce and prevent entanglements, innovative techniques for pinniped disentanglement, lessons learned, and next steps toward a solution.

 Marine debris is a global concern affecting at least 200 marine species in the world’s oceans. The entanglement of marine mammals in all forms of marine debris is increasingly recognized as a serious source of human-caused mortality for marine mammal populations including pinnipeds. Marine debris most commonly associated with pinniped entanglements include plastic packing bands, fishing nets, monofilament line, rope, crab traps, rubber bands from crab traps, and fish pots. Entangling debris may cause drowning, lacerations, infection, strangulation, increased energy expenditure (especially while dragging large fragments of net), and mortality. Moreover, marine debris can be a ‘‘silent” killer, where ingested hooks or plastic may perforate the esophagus or stomach lining leading to catastrophic infection, organ damage, reduce feeding, and cause starvation; all with no apparent external signs of entanglement.

Researchers world-wide have worked independently to prevent pinniped entanglement in marine debris. To provide increased global collaboration and communication among scientists, non-government organizations, non-profits, and others, the Pinniped Entanglement Group (PEG) was created in 2009. The PEG collaborates to reduce pinniped entanglements in marine debris and fishing gear through education, outreach, and rescue. The PEG continues to grow globally and welcomes new members dedicated to the safety and welfare of pinnipeds.

This session will discuss: 1) Global pinniped entanglement research; 2) Entanglement rescue response (including best practices and lessons learned); 3) Entanglement prevention and PEG; and 4) Innovative solutions and next steps.

Life-cycle considerations to addressing marine debris – reflections on municipal waste

Session Chairs: Eric DesRoberts, Ocean Conservancy

This session will focus on decisions made at different points along product value chains, why some of these decisions create problems for our ocean, and what can be done to solve these problems by bringing diverse stakeholders together.

 No single entity is going to be able to address marine debris alone and multiple parties will have to come together to truly create systemic change. However, aside from the recognition that plastic litter does not belong in the ocean, there are often grey areas and tradeoffs to be assessed throughout a product and packaging system that make the topic of marine debris incredibly complex. The panelists for this session all oversee networks of industry, NGO, and academic thought-leaders to address marine debris from multiple angles and create robust and resilient solutions. The panelists will discuss some of the design decisions behind items and materials that pose some of the biggest marine debris challenges, the importance of including more system based thinking into operations, and the business case for addressing marine debris. This session will focus on decisions made at different points along product value chains, why some of these decisions create problems for our ocean, and what can be done to solve these problems by bringing diverse stakeholders together.


Microplastics in Wastewater Treatment Plants -- a totally preventable source

Session Chairs: Hrissi K. Karapanagioti, Department of Chemistry, University of Patras; Ioannis Kalavrouziotis, Hellenic Open University

 This session is dedicated to researchers, operators, stakeholders, and regulators on the results of monitoring studies in wastewater treatment plants and best management practices.

 Most of the microplastic particles and synthetic fibers can be effectively removed by the different WWTP processes depending on their density. However, more efficient methods such as microfiltration should be employed to protect the environment. Despite the high efficient removal rates of microplastics achieved by WWTPs when dealing with such a large volume of effluent even a modest amount of microplastics being released per litter of effluent could result in significant amounts of microplastics entering the environment. In most cases, microplastics and synthetic fibers concentration was higher in the WWTP effluent compared to the receiving body of water. This indicates that WWTPs may operate as a route for microplastics entering the sea. WWTPs can act as a primary source for beached microplastics.

WWTP operators should be informed and educated on how to address this issue regulators should prohibit the use of microplastics in personal care products and consumer decision should be based on common sense practices. Studies dealing with monitoring, good practices, educating and informing operators and manager will be welcomed to present. WWTPs is a totally preventable route for microplastics to the sea and should be eliminated. The specific intent of the session is to bring WWTP operators to a marine debris conference that will allow them to understand the marine debris problem, allow them to understand what is microplastic and its chemistry, find ways to monitor microplastics and motivate them to eliminate this point source of microplastic to the sea. Marine debris community will learn about this preventable source and be motivated to stop this input to the sea since it is preventable.


Engineering Effective Marine Debris Interception

Session Chairs: Thomas G Sprehe, KCI Technologies, Inc; John Kellett, Clearwater Mills, LLC 

 An international panel of experts is proposed to highlight an “engineering approach” to addressing the risk and urgency of the problem, disrupting the paradigm, source control, scope, scale, cost, and timeline of interception projects, and performance measurement.

Given the relatively short timeframe during which humans have polluted the Earth with durable plastic, say +/1- 60 years, the accelerating loading rates worldwide should sound loud bells of alarm. As we become aware of the mounting evidence that bioaccumulation of microplastics often tainted with toxic waste, is already widespread in our oceanic food chain, the implications for a growing population dependent on a vibrant ocean ecosystem are horrendous. Solid waste professionals have just woken up to the fact that a gap in sanitation practices since the beginning of the plastic economy has in a short time had a significant negative global effect. Complex as the issue of marine debris waste management may be, by using the standard engineering problem solving approach the problem must be systematically addressed evaluating risk, urgency, applicable metrics, efficient design with life cycle optimization, contract delivery and financing models, and long-term performance management. Stakeholder engagement and support increases dramatically when the right engineering solutions are successfully presented. 

Tom Sprehe and John Kellett have evaluated dozens of locations worldwide for implementation of river borne trash interception controls, in particular the patented Waterwheel-powered Trash Interceptor (Trash Wheel) first developed in Baltimore, MD by Kelleit. By deploying this and similar technology, the opportunity for immediate and effective triage of the sources of discharge to the oceans is huge, may be relatively inexpensive, provide meaningful employment, using sustainable energy. Other similar technologies exist at smaller scales. In all cases the relatively simple equipment may be easily removed and re-purposed as upland sources are eventually better managed or other developments may require it.

The session is intended to be coordinated with the other session related to Marine Debris Diagnostic and Restoration Planning, and the Business Case for Managing Marine Debris.

See Other Tracks: Monitoring and Citizen Science · Research and Microplastic/Microfibers · Private Sector Collaboration, Technology, and Innovation · Education and Communication · Implementing Effective Law Regulations, and Policy · Removal · Single-Use Product Policies, Regulations and Laws · Derelict Fishing Gear ·Innovative Case Studies from Around the World