There are a few key routes through which plastic travels to the ocean: washing machines that loosen plastic microfibers from clothing, microbeads from cosmetics (recently banned here in Canada), lost or discarded fishing gear and consumer packaging. Ocean Wise is working to tackle fishing pollution through its successful seafood program, while its Plastics Lab studies the sources and fates of microfibers and other microplastics. But the recent release of Ocean Plastics: What the Packaging Industry Can Do is the start of a new effort to tackle this third prong of marine plastic pollution.
Since March 2018, Alexis Esseltine Scoon, Sustainability Manager, Vancouver Aquarium, has worked with Dr. Peter Ross, vice-president of research at Ocean Wise and Executive Director of the Coastal Ocean Research institute (CORI), and his team, to distill their scientific research on the effects of plastic on ocean ecosystems. The paper, co-authored by Esseltine Scoon and Rachel Morier, PAC Packaging Consortium’s Director of Sustainability, breaks down key pollution issues and how scientists and the packaging industry can work together.
“We’re bringing the science. They’re bringing the solutions,” says Scoon. “Ocean Wise has been a leader in the arena of microplastics pollution research for years. With this collaborative research, we’re melding our knowledge of the issues affecting the ocean with industry knowledge of what’s possible to create real change that will help ensure the health of our oceans for future generations.”
Ocean Plastics: What the Packaging Industry Can Do examines key questions like, how can optimized packaging cut down on waste? How can clearer labels and redesigned packages eliminate recycling confusion? What are some success stories for closed-loop, local solutions to marine plastic?
“We’re bringing the science. They’re bringing the solutions.” – Alexis Esseltine Scoon, Sustainability Manager, Vancouver Aquarium
The white paper also addresses common misunderstandings around compostable plastic labels. Terms like “bio-based” and “biodegradable” are often confused and may actually encourage littering if consumers mistakenly believe that such packaging breaks down naturally in the ocean.
The Vancouver Foundation funded Ocean Wise’s participation in the partnership, which began with a webinar hosted by Ocean Wise and PAC to inform the packaging community about the effects of plastic packaging on the ocean.
In September 2018, Canada signed the Ocean Plastics Charter in Halifax, vowing to reduce the amount of plastic litter that winds up in the ocean. Major companies, such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Nestle, also vowed to create more environmentally sustainable packaging for their products. Educating the public on proper disposal, supporting marine cleanup projects by using ocean plastic in packaging, and understanding labels will all be key to the closing the loop on packaging pollution.