Big Wins at Rio+20's: A Platform, Partnerships and Business Opportunities to Stop Plastic Pollution

What do mushrooms, tires and soda bottles have in common?  They are all being used, recycled or even upcycled through innovative programs that prevent waste from entering the environment.

Despite some disappointments in the formal negotiations process, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development -- Rio+20 -- has been a hugely valuable gathering of the smartest minds in business, law and policy.  Fifty thousand passionate experts came to Rio de Janeiro this week to exchange information, make commitments, and build partnerships to protect our planet and it’s people from many threats and challenges. 

To help solve the problem of plastic pollution -- which impacts human and ecosystem health both on land and in the marine environment -- important opportunities were showcased at the launch of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Partnership on Marine Litter and the Plasticity Forum.  At these events, NRDC presented the Global Goal and Commitment to Stop Plastic Pollution, housed on a web-based platform to motivate and showcase actions from government, business, and organizations, committed to reducing marine plastic pollution at its source. 

Plastic that ends up as pollution in the ocean has serious consequences for marine life and possible grave consequences for the food chain and human health. 

  • Hundreds of species and thousands of individual animals -- including significant numbers of endangered species such as Hawaiian monk seals and every species of turtle -- have been killed or seriously harmed by being entangled or ingesting plastics.
  • Plastic in the ocean breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces without biodegrading. Research has found that toxins bond to these micro-particles of plastic, and they are frequently ingested by fish. 
  • Plastic debris also causes substantial economic impacts to coastal economies: debris in storm drains, on the beach, and in the ocean causes flooding, navigational hazards, and is a blight to the tourism industry; governments are forced to pay for expensive cleanup measures.

To date, 32 entities from government, business, and civil society have signed on, committing to advancing marine plastic pollution reduction measures in whatever manner is most appropriate for them.  These measures include:

  • Laws and polices that make producers responsible for recycling disposable plastic packaging at the end of its useful life.  This creates an incentive to use less packaging or more recyclable packaging. 
  • Regulations to restrict certain products, such as plastic bags, that are difficult to clean up or recycle.

NRDC's Frances Beinecke hosted a panel at the Plasticity Forum on extended producer responsibility and waste reduction techniques, with Reciclinap, ReciColeta, As You Sow, and GAIA.

NRDC was supported by more than 8,000 school children from California in delivering this message to Rio+20.  We now invite any government, business, or organization to sign on to the Global Goal and Commitment to Stop Plastic Pollution and help carry the momentum of Rio+20 forward with bold action to protect our communities and the environment from plastic pollution.

At Kids Ocean Day, a Message to Leaders at Rio+20 to!

This blog originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard.