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Stemming the Tide of Marine Waste with Market-Based Instruments

Manado/Nairobi, 13 May 2009 From paying fishermen to 'fish for litter' to laws banning food vendors from using plastic cups and plates in coastal parks, governments and local authorities around the world are increasingly turning to market-based instruments to cut litter and waste entering the sea.

These are among the findings from a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-commissioned report presented today at the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia, where over 120 nations are gathering to boost the health of the global marine environment.

In the US, for example, food vendors in national public parks are required to use biodegradable plates, cups, and other disposable food containers and discouraged from distributing straws with drinks unless specifically requested by the customer.

In Hawaii, US, an initiative that gives fishermen cash awards by the weight of abandoned gear they report resulted in nearly 75 tonnes of debris removed over a two-year period.

A levy of US$ 0.02 (0.15) per plastic bag in Ireland generated nearly US$ 13 million (9 million) and led to a 90 per cent reduction in consumption of disposable plastic bags. The money generated was channelled into environmental initiatives in the country.

These types of incentives create opportunities for policy makers to exercise their political will, given that they are able to generate the necessary funds to implement an environmental plan.

A private-public partnership in Honolulu saw the collection of nearly 26 tonnes of net and monofilament line, which were processed and converted into electric power.

In South Korea, cost sharing between cities and payment to fishermen were used to tackle marine litter.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Smart market mechanisms, from feed-in tariffs to stimulate renewable energies to paying communities for ecosystem services can transform the economics of sustainability."

"Today we present evidence that the same approach can be brought to bear in the area of marine litter underlining yet another area where a Green Economy can be glimpsed and one day soon realized," he added.

Marine debris damages marine industries, but is also an economic cost to society and the environment. Globally, as much as 80 per cent of marine debris entering the ocean each year is thought to come from land-based sources, with the remainder coming from shipping and other maritime sources.

The report made a number of recommendations to address the problem. These include measures to:

Invest in the waste management infrastructure from the smallest items (waste cans conveniently located by beaches and piers) to state-of-the-art landfills and environmental-friendly materials that will not persist in the environment and substitution of materials to increase degradability.

Encourage strategies that will prevent or reduce the amount of litter entering inland waterways from towns, streets, parking areas, etc. This can be done in conjunction with an educational campaign that helps people understand how all watersheds are connected, and how their piece of litter can impact natural resources, marine habitats, navigation, health and safety.

Create opportunities for all stakeholders (public and private sectors) to communicate, exchange information, share technological expertise, the latest marine litter research, guidelines, and successes.

Build a stronger sense of environmental stewardship among ocean users as well as people who live inland through education and community outreach. This ethic is critical given the global nature of marine litter, its inability to be confined within territorial boundaries and the complexity of identifying sources.

Enhance and encourage collaboration among NGOs, industry, governments, citizens, academia, fisheries management organizations, local communities and municipalities. A variety of partners bring different skills and resources to the table, leading to a stronger foundation for success.

Support and promote voluntary efforts to remove litter from the marine environment (e.g., beach and river clean-up events)

Deposits-refund systems, user and administrative charge, and sales taxes and cost sharing are among market-based instruments cited as most suitable in controlling marine debris.

For further information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP at mobile +254 733632755 or email nick.nuttall@unep.org

Full Release




Further Resources

World Oceans Conference 2009

Report: Guidelines on the Use of Market-based Instruments to Address the Problem of Marine Litter

UNEP marine litter page

UNEP Regional Seas Programme


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