Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 5th International Marine Debris Conference: 5IMDC

This week, Surfrider Foundation participated in the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference brought together over 440 participants from 35 countries to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and NOAA were the co-organizers of the conference, and it brought in strange bedfellows in terms of sponsorship, including Coca-Cola and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The ACC has also been pouring money into campaigns against single-use bag bans popping up in progressive cities, regions and countries across the world as a means to prevent marine debris. On the other hand, the UNEP has issued this statement:

"Some of the litter, like thin-film single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere," UNEP director Achim Steiner said in a report overview. "There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”

Here is an interview with one notable conference keynote speaker, Roz Savage, ocean rower and amazing individual engaged in the issue of plastic pollution. Roz was also recently interviewed by Newsweek.

Since the conference brought together NGO's, government, scientists and industry, it was difficult for conference attendees to all agree on all solutions to plastic pollution issues, such as bans or fees on easily littered items (recommended by Surfrider Foundation and many other NGOs) or just the recycling of products (recommended by industry). Due to the less than 9% recycling rate from the latest EPA data and the increasing rate of generation of these products, Surfrider and many others argued that there cannot be more of the same policies. We want to take a step forward to stop the increasing amount of trash found in our oceans.

The conference organizers strived to formulate a Honolulu Commitment and Honolulu Strategy. The Commitment references target reductions and bases it's action items on the Strategy, which has yet to reach final form. Conference Participants will have the next two weeks to enter comments on the Strategy and decide whether to sign on. For Surfrider Foundation, this decision will hinge on whether the Strategy document truly calls us to effectively stem the tide of plastic pollution.

One thing everyone could agree on was the excitement of seeing Hawaii's own Jack Johnson, noted supporter of organizations like Surfrider Foundation and Kokua Foundation, play at the final session of the conference. Jack's opening number, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" illustrated his commitment to reducing plastic pollution in his hometown of North Shore, Hawaii and across the globe.