Committing to end plastic pollution, U.S. and EC join Clean Seas Campaign

The United States of America and the European Commission have officially joined the Clean Seas Campaign, demonstrating their commitment to ending plastic pollution. In doing so, they acknowledge the need to curb the flow of marine litter and plastic pollution entering lakes, rivers, and the ocean and, in effect, are providing greater engagement to the biggest campaign devoted to ‘turning the tide’ against plastic in the world.

The Clean Seas Campaign, launched by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in 2017, has been a catalyst for change, transforming habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe. With the United States of America and the European Commission joining newcomers Cabo Verde, Portugal, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, 69 Member States have now joined the global movement devoted to ending marine litter and plastic pollution, along the life cycle and from source to sea.

Commitments made by the 69 signatory countries now cover more than 76 per cent of the world’s coastlines. More voluntary commitments are expected to be made at this year’s United Nations Ocean Conference to address ocean-related issues that affect communities and countries. To date, individual pledges of action originating from the Clean Seas Campaign have reached more than one million.

“We are pleased to welcome the United States and the European Commission as new Clean Seas members. Their leadership and commitment to the values and mission of Clean Seas will be paramount in accompanying the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee process and developing a globally binding treaty to end plastic pollution. Our success is part and parcel to the ongoing work of our Clean Seas members and partners,” Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division.

The Clean Seas Campaign is broadening its scope and entering a new strategic phase that will see it accompany the political process for the implementation of UNEA Resolution 5.14 and its focus on ending plastic pollution. The campaign seeks to support the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process initiated to form a legally binding agreement and engage with governments and the private sector to undertake concerted action to end plastic pollution ahead of the Sixth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6).

In the lead up to joining the Clean Seas campaign, the United States of America has made significant strides in its actions to reduce plastic pollution. In 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the National Recycling Strategy, reaffirming the goal to increase the U.S. recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030. Through pursuing a Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) approach, the EPA aims to reduce the environmental impacts of materials across their lifecycle. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program forms partnerships across the United States and internationally to support local and national efforts to drive more sustainable behaviors and reduce the generation of waste and marine debris. 

NOAA funds locally driven, community-based marine debris removal projects around the United States and supports the monitoring of debris amounts and types in shoreline environments. NOAA also funds research and advances science to help understand debris baselines, chemicals in plastics, debris detection, plastic ingestion by wildlife, economic implications, and how to minimize the impacts of derelict fishing gear.

The EPA also initiated the WasteWise Program which works with businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations to promote the use and reuse of materials more productively over their entire life cycles, while the US Department of Energy (DOE) developed a Strategy for Plastics Innovation which coordinates various initiatives on plastic recycling, degradation, upcycling, and design for circularity.

The European Commission has also become a leader in the fight to ‘turn the tide’ against plastic pollution in the past years, having recently supported a broader EU-wide ban on some single-use plastics products for which easily available and affordable alternatives exist.

The Directive on single-use plastics aims to prevent and reduce the impact on the environment of certain plastic products and promote a transition to a circular economy through a variety of new measures, requiring a sustained quantitative reduction in consumption of certain single-use plastics for which there are no alternatives. 

Furthermore, a collection target of 90% for single-use plastic beverage bottles has been set by 2029, while incorporating 25% of recycled plastic in PET beverage bottles from 2025, and 30% in all plastic beverage bottles from 2030.

The ocean makes life on earth possible, helping to regulate our climate, providing the main source of protein for more than a billion people and generating much of the oxygen we breathe. Marine litter and plastic pollution pose an existential threat to ocean health. There is a need to rebuild humanity’s relationship with the ocean and place it firmly at the center of future sustainable development solutions.

Photo credit: iStock/ picturesd

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