Sea Change

Malaysia Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Dou­glas Woodring talks to Steven Crane about com­bat­ing plas­tic pol­lu­tion to pre­serve our ecosys­tem

The founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Ocean Re­cov­ery Al­liance, Dou­glas Woodring— who was awarded the Prince’s Prize for In­no­va­tive Phi­lan­thropy this year by Prince Al­bert II of Monaco—talks to Steven Crane about the need for much greater global in­ter­ven­tion to turn the tide of plas­tic pol­lu­tion

Some eight mil­lion tonnes of plas­tic en­ter rivers and oceans each year, threat­en­ing the planet’s fresh­wa­ter and ma­rine ecosys­tems. Given the bor­der­less na­ture of this pol­lu­tion, so­lu­tions re­quire cre­ative new ways of think­ing, new tech­nolo­gies and, most im­por­tantly, col­lab­o­ra­tion, says Dou­glas Woodring.

What was your re­ac­tion to win­ning the Prince’s Prize for In­no­va­tive Phi­lan­thropy?

The prize is a pow­er­ful en­dorse­ment and val­i­da­tion of the global work we have been do­ing from Hong Kong over the past decade. Now that much of the world has awo­ken to the scale of the plas­tic is­sue, more com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments are em­brac­ing the pro­grammes we have al­ready been run­ning for a num­ber of years to tackle the prob­lem. The award has shone fur­ther light on this.

What are these pro­grammes?

The Plas­tic Dis­clo­sure Project, which works to re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the world’s ris­ing use of plas­tics in prod­ucts and pack­ag­ing, and our Global Alert app, which al­lows peo­ple to re­port trash hotspots any­where in the world’s wa­ters. Both have been en­dorsed by the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme and the World Bank. The Ocean Re­cov­ery Al­liance is also the founder and or­gan­iser of the Plas­tic­ity Fo­rum, launched at the Rio+20 Earth Sum­mit eight years ago, which fo­cuses on the fu­ture of plas­tic sus­tain­abil­ity with­out leav­ing a plas­ticwaste foot­print.

How did you be­come in­ter­ested in plas­tic pol­lu­tion and find­ing ways to re­duce it?

The real eye-open­ing mo­ment for me came when I was div­ing on the out­er­most reef in Palau about 10 years ago. The place was ab­so­lutely re­mote and yet there was plas­tic pack­ag­ing and trash sus­pended at all lev­els of the wa­ter col­umn, even 20 me­tres deep, in crys­tal-clear wa­ter. It made me won­der where it came from and why the world wasn’t talk­ing about it.

What are the big­gest threats from the im­proper dis­posal of plas­tic waste?

The threats are on a global scale and are felt daily even more than cli­mate change at the mo­ment, and by a larger slice of the pop­u­la­tion. Plas­tic is com­posed of ma­jor toxic pol­lu­tants, so it has the po­ten­tial to cause great harm to the en­vi­ron­ment in the form of air, wa­ter and land pol­lu­tion. Be­sides plants and wildlife, it is also harm­ful to hu­mans. Its com­pounds can act as car­ri­ers of third-party tox­ins into our food chain, but also lead to fishing, agri­cul­ture and ma­rine dam­age.

How can plas­tics man­u­fac­tur­ers, com­mer­cial users and con­sumers work to­gether to re­duce waste?

For too long, the busi­ness sec­tor and gov­ern­ments have put the blame on con­sumers, say­ing that it’s us who are lit­ter­ing or aren’t ed­u­cated enough. But if peo­ple don’t have the fa­cil­i­ties, in­fra­struc­ture and sys­tems to be­come aware of the is­sue, they are not to blame. Com­pa­nies are the most pow­er­ful ac­tors in this equa­tion, as they have the funds and re­sources for R&D, as well as the choice to source and use bet­ter ma­te­ri­als for the prod­ucts they put into the mar­ket.

Is the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion more aware of ocean plas­tic pol­lu­tion?

Yes, and this aware­ness is grow­ing in Asia as well. But we still have a long way to go. Too many places, in­clud­ing high-end restau­rants and five-star ho­tels, con­tinue to use plas­tic straws and swiz­zle sticks. We need to be more on top of both lo­cal and global is­sues. Mak­ing more changes—as small as they might seem, as in the case of drop­ping plas­tic straws— is es­sen­tial to keep us mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. So­cial me­dia can play a big role here in ex­pos­ing the bad, and pro­mot­ing and cham­pi­oning the good.

What are your top tips to re­duce plas­tic con­sump­tion?

Avoid un­nec­es­sary plas­tic items and pack­ag­ing when­ever pos­si­ble. Do not use dis­pos­able plas­tic plates, forks, cut­lery and so on when hav­ing par­ties or events. Do not use foam lunch boxes, and ask your ven­dor why he or she is still us­ing them if you are served one. Re­cy­cle, al­ways, and have your com­pany or school un­der­take the Plas­tic Dis­clo­sure Project—it’ll re­veal a lot about the plas­tic waste they pro­duce and help save money in the long term, which is a win for ev­ery­one. We also need com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments to greatly in­crease their use of re­cy­cled con­tent in prod­ucts and to de­crease the use of vir­gin ma­te­ri­als.

To learn more about the Ocean Re­cov­ery Al­liance and how com­pa­nies, spon­sors and vol­un­teers can sup­port its work, visit ocean­re­cov.org

FIGHT­ING THE GOOD FIGHT Plas­tic waste con­cerns us all. “We need to be more on top of both lo­cal and global is­sues,” says Woodring

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