It was in Florence six years ago when I initiated a discussion with my colleagues in the ISWA Scientific Committee about the fast-growing problem with waste and oceans. The discussion then was mostly about the dying oceans, suffocated by plastic waste and the terrible plight of whales, sea birds, turtles and other sea animals, which are slowly injured or killed by marine litter. At that time the horrific photos and films on social media hadn´t flourished as they have today. At that time, we didn’t talk much about the climate threat connected to the Marine Litter. Instead we talked about the amount of waste ending up in the oceans. Today we know that marine litter is also a climate threat, when microplastics on the surface of the oceans prevents, and critically reduces, the crucial exchange of oxygen between the oceans and the atmosphere, necessary for the survival of our planet.
One, two or four trucks per minute?
In November 2015 the discussion emerged for the establishing of a new task force within ISWA – on Marine Litter. At the World Congress in Baltimore in 2017 the first report on Marine Litter was presented by Dr Costas Velis, the Task Force Leader, myself, the fundraiser Mr Hakan Rylander, and the consultants Ms Maria Tsakona and Mr David Lerpiniere.
The problem was even bigger than we thought! At least 8 million tonnes of plastic waste annually (maybe as much as 15 million tons) find its way into the oceans. This equates to to one full refuse truck per minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two full refuse trucks of plastics per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.
There is an urgent need for action!
Hand in hand – “Closing Dumpsites” and “Marine Litter”
We know that the lack of sound waste management, with no collection of waste, with illegal dumpsites and open dumpsites located at waterways and by the oceans results in large amounts of plastic waste being transported and spread out in the oceans. German researchers have found out that between 88 – 95 percent of all plastic waste is transported into the oceans via ten big rivers. The rivers go through areas with a very high population densities, with an extremely high amount of plastic waste per capita and that is due to the complete lack of, or poorly managed collection of waste, with fly tipping, with open dumpsites at waterways and with no plastic recycling.
The ISWA Marine Litter Task Force and the Closing Dumpsites Task Force are ISWA's two most ambitious and urgent ongoing projects. ISWA is now in the position to communicate the knowledge and the actions that need to be taken on dumpsites and illegal dumping for reaching a sound waste management worldwide and mitigating the amount of waste ending up in the oceans. It will take a huge, collective effort from all parties involved working together to minimize and prevent the leakage of plastic waste into the oceans.
Research and communication for success
At the World Congress in October in Kuala Lumpur the Task Force will present its new findings. The beta-version of a powerful tool will be presented where predictions can be made of the amount of waste that arises from f.e. cities. It is only when decision makers implement a sound waste management worldwide, when illegal dumping is stopped, when producers put easily recyclable plastics on the market, when people’s behaviours change – then, and only then - is it time to put the Task Force work to rest and talk about success.
Success will be reached when we have clean seas and clean beaches on earth, in line with ISWA's vision of a world where no waste exists!
SEA you in Kuala Lumpur!