Marine Plastic Pollution Solutions

Former ELC Clinic student Meaghan Partridge hiking at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park in Scotland. Meaghan is in Limerick, Ireland this semester and is enjoying the opportunity to study law from an international perspective. [Photo provided]

ELC was a great experience for me and exposed me to public interest environmental law. It was a great opportunity to be able to interact with clients and work together to create a work product aspiring to make concrete environmental change. ~ Meaghan Partridge

When Meaghan Partridge started to write her ELC report for the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, she knew marine plastic pollution was a problem. She just didn’t realize at what scale.

“In researching this issue, the thing that surprised me the most was simply the magnitude of the marine plastic pollution,” says Meaghan. “I mean, everyone is aware of the trash gyres but they feel so far away.”

In her 44-page report, Meaghan researched the prevalence of marine plastic pollution and the problems it creates. Some of the statistics were staggering:

  • On average, there is more than one piece of plastic litter for every square metre of shoreline around the world.
  • An average of 18,000 pieces of plastic litter float on every square kilometre of ocean globally.
  • In the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland BC, over 3,000 particles of plastic were found per cubic meter of seawater analyzed.
  • Out of 16 samples of commercial sea salt recently analyzed from eight different countries, all but one contained plastic particles.
  • It is also estimated that if trends continue, that in 2050 the world’s oceans could contain more plastic than fish.

“I became aware of the terrible impacts that marine plastic pollution has globally and what this means, and looks like, in British Columbia,” says Meaghan. “The micro-plastic accumulating on our beaches and the plastic products that directly harm wild animals is such a prevalent and unique local and global issue due to the interconnected nature of our oceans.”

Trying to solve an issue that is urgent, global and multi-faceted can seem overwhelming, but there are solutions. Some of them are quite simple, while others require changing behaviour and habits. Meaghan’s analysis identified seven potential solutions, ranging from regulating single-use plastics to redesigning the plastic economy in order to address the root problem. She also believes individual choices can help make a difference.

“Ultimately, I believe that the best action that we can all take to help reduce the severity of marine plastic pollution, and marine pollution in general, is reduce and recycle. It sounds simple, but the heart of this issue is our throwaway economy. This project really helped me to become aware of the wasteful, transient way that our society uses plastic. While Canada generally has really good recycling programs, recycling itself cannot fix the issue. Consumption of plastic products on its current scale is not sustainable and will only serve to exacerbate the problem and the rate of consumption is just increasing. Therefore, I believe that people can help this issue by making an effort to stop buying disposable products and reducing use and purchase of excess plastic packaging.”

One solution presented in Meaghan’s paper is not only receiving local consideration, it is now part of the State of California debate as to whether Producer Responsibility Programs should address marine plastic pollution (see the Product Stewardship Newsletter)

The ELC is continuing to work on this issue, and as efforts to address marine plastic pollution continue to advance, we expect to see more of the solutions brought forward in Meaghan’s paper implemented.

Read the report:

Seven Reforms to Address Marine Plastic Pollution