Plastic Ocean Waste (POW) is accumulating in our oceans and on our beaches at an accelerating rate. Eight million metric tons (8M MT) of plastic is entering the world’s oceans each year (Jambeck et al. 2015). This is a rate of 1 ton per minute (Agenda 2016). There is a need to find improved methods of assessing, collecting, and utilizing POW to address this growing problem (Moss, Eidson & Jambeck 2017). During Phase I (PKS 2021), we estimated the amount of POW accumulating annually on Alaska’s shorelines at 34,500 MT to 51,700 MT (70 million to 104 million lbs.). Alaska represents 53% of the U.S. coastline (NOAA 1975). The United States represents approximately 9% of the world’s coastline (WRI 2012). Extending the Alaska estimate, the United States is accumulating 0.72 M MT of POW annually (one ton every 11 minutes).
There are several approaches to solving this problem. Regulation and taxation strategies have been proposed that can stem the tide of POW into our oceans (Vince & Hardesty 2018; Whitehorse 2021). Reuse and recycling campaigns can help to reduce the amount or POW for disposal (Willis et al. 2018). These approaches are focusing on the source and are beginning to find traction with persistent work by organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (Circular Economy), Ocean Conservancy (sustainability, conservation), and Parley for the Oceans (reduction, interception). However, there remains the problem of the growing accumulation of Plastic Ocean Waste on the world’s shorelines.
During Phase I, we reviewed the marine debris cleanup efforts on Alaska’s shorelines over the past fifteen years. Using NOAA’s Marine Debris Clearinghouse (2021), we estimated that the maximum amount of annual POW collected is 168 MT, approximately 0.5% (1/200th) of the annual accumulation. Methods are needed to (1) increase the collection of POW, and (2) reduce the amount of Ocean Bound Plastic. Coastal communities have participated in beach clean ups and local residential recycling, yet they tend to lose momentum. Programs that incentivize collection through return deposits, pay-as-you-throw, or purchase of recylcates have been effective. A necessary step toward building a successful incentive program is the development of a utilization capability, ideally one that is local and visible (Delmas & Colgan 2018):
[I]nformation alone can’t drive sustainable behavior. People must feel motivated, and the best motivations bundle environmental benefits with personal benefits, such as economic rewards, increased status or social connections.
Converting recycled plastic locally and producing products that can be used within the community can provide a significant motivator for participation (Moss 2021). The participation in recycling efforts can be further improved by offering compensation for the plastics that are recycled (Katz 2019). POW can be collected by local fishers and boaters and brought to port where it can be purchased. Residential recycling programs can offer compensation for sorted and cleaned plastics delivered to local recycling centers. Participation can be lauded through social media. The challenge is the development of a feasible local recycling system that can convert plastics to products. The solution is a Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycler that can be deployed in multiple coastal communities throughout the year (Figure 1).
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