It might be industry byproduct, runoff after a storm, or an accidental shipwreck. Sometimes it is deliberate, such as when wastes are illegally dumped or sewage is not treated. It is marine debris – the man made plastics, glass, metals and other odds and ends that end up in oceans, lakes and waterways around the world. “Trash in our oceans”, as UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner calls it, is a growing problem.
Marine debris is a global issue that requires a global solution. A spill or dump in one ocean may end up polluting a beach hundreds of miles away. Plastics choke fish and birds, toxic runoff threatens our food system and garbage litters beaches around the world. Indeed, the UNEP estimates that 270 species worldwide are directly and negatively affected by marine debris.
Last week, the 5th International Marine Debris Conference was held in Honolulu to address growing concerns over the ever increasing amount of debris in the oceans. In his address, Steiner stressed the importance of collaboration. He asked delegates to “make a difference” by both reducing the amount of materials used and researching newer, more sustainable materials.
One of the meeting’s key outcomes was the Honolulu Commitment, which aims to share solutions for reducing marine debris, to increase worldwide understanding of the issues, and to improve waste management strategies. It suggests that government and industry should look at changing more of their waste into a resource, such as energy.
While no binding agreements were made, the Honolulu Commitment is an important first step which acknowledges the myriad of man-made problems facing our oceans. To become effective, countries and industries must begin enacting regulations and promoting better practices on their own.