As we approach World Ocean Day on June 8, world leaders are coming together in Paris to develop a global plastics treaty to tackle waste and protect marine biodiversity. At the same time, the seaweed industry is seizing the opportunity to introduce seaweed bioplastics as an immediate alternative to single-use plastic waste. This is also a time for plastics to hydrogen to address key reservations and move towards greater recognition.
There are at least 21,000 pieces of plastic in the ocean for every person on Earth or an equivalent of 3.9 billion bathtubs filled, and that number is doubling every 6 years, a study on March 8 reported.
The second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment (INC-2) is underway from 29 May to 2 June 2023 at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, France amidst a background of disagreement within the conference halls and outside. On the table to be turned into a text that binds nations to agreement are the following:
- Effective solutions to legacy ocean plastic when (and if) the tap is turned off
- Elimination of unnecessary plastics & redesign plastic packaging
-Promotion of alternatives to plastics
- Boost in innovation and ideas in waste management
- Agree on a framework of solutions to deal with what is hard to eliminate
- We need a right to refill, reuse, repair taking into account what it means for food security
- Recognise waste picker industry is not ESG equitable and justice for waste pickers who have noone to speak for them is vital
A key text that is informing the INC-2 discussions is the following UNEP report entitled: “Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy.” The report shows that only an integrated, systemic shift from a linear to a circular economy can keep plastics out of our ecosystems and bodies, and in the economy. The report lays out key elements of the required market transformation – rethinking and redesigning products; reusing, recycling, reorienting and diversifying markets; and addressing demand for durable plastics. The report also looks at how to manage the legacy of plastic pollution already in the environment, and it defines the policy and legislative changes that can drive the transformation.
In a historic decision at the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022, all 193 UN Member States decided to end plastic pollution. Last March, 175 countries participating in the UN Environmental Assembly 5.2 (UNEA-5.2) adopted the resolution 5/14, thus launching the process towards a global plastics treaty. The plan is expected to be developed by the end of 2024. With negotiations on a binding legal agreement underway as this is published, the question is how to realise that goal.
In summary, these are the key focus areas for INC-2 discussions.
Bioplastics- Could 100% seaweed bioplastics be a solution to single use plastic?
Similarly, the Global Seaweed Coalition will be co-hosting a meeting with the UN Global Compact and UNEP, for seaweed packaging producers on June 1.
The panel will focus on the comparison of seaweed as a natural alternative to other sources of bioplastics, showcasing existing seaweed packaging solutions and identifying bottlenecks and opportunities for the adoption of seaweed packaging. Ocean Purpose Project has been a vital contributor to the discussion of seaweed bioplastics, especially the role of South East Asia in this space and will be sharing the potential and difficulties of seaweed bioplastics, bioleathers and cardboard/styrofoam alternative based on the test products we have created.
Mr Vincent Doumeizel, UN Global Seaweed lead attending Ocean Purpose Project’s iconic Community Beach Clean ups sharing about seaweed plastic together with the Ocean Purpose Project team and local celebrity Paul Foster
On the occasion of the UN Plastic Treaty negotiations (INC-2) taking place in Paris in May, this meeting will convene relevant stakeholders to showcase the potential of seaweed as a nature-based solution for plastic alternatives. The session will feature a keynote speech on the potential of seaweed followed by a panel discussion with experts from UN organisations, academia, and seaweed producers.
The outcome of the event is to provide formal recommendations in an input paper for the next UN Plastic Treaty negotiations (INC-3) during UNEA in Nairobi in February 2024. These recommendations will be delivered to Member States to consider when drafting the legally binding instruments on plastic pollution.
Global leaders agree to tackle plastic pollution at the UNEA-5.2 meeting last March
Research: Finding new ways to tackle old waste
Currently, less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled, according to the OECD. The remaining 90% is either incinerated or disposed of in landfills, dumps, or in the environment. But landfills are quickly filling up. In Singapore, Pulau Semakau is expected to fill up by 2035.
Moreover, the World Bank estimates that landfills will release 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases per year by 2050, while methane emissions — a gas found to have 72 times more global warming potential than CO2 in a 20-year time frame — are expected to grow 70% by 2050.
Likewise, waste-to-energy (WtE) via incineration still suffers from low efficiency and release toxic fumes and persistent organic pollutants into nearby air, land and water. Given the above, researchers like Chari, Sebastiani, Paulillo and Materazzi have stressed the importance of finding a suitable alternative disposal system for non-recyclable mixed plastic waste (MPW) in their 2023 study.
One method they suggest would be to use gasification of MPW, which could produce hydrogen as the main product while also capturing carbon dioxide. One limitation though would be that extracting pure hydrogen would still consume a lot of energy.
The hydrogen extracted can be used as a fuel, a feedstock in chemical industries and refineries, or in heat and power generation. Recent studies are also looking into how it can be fed back into the system, and via hydrogenolysis, break down more plastic waste.
The gasification process explained [Source: Ankur Scientific]
Investment: Financing the blue economy
Besides building know-how through scientific studies, one can also invest in existing blue carbon projects to tackle ocean plastic pollution.
Earlier this year, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) released their paper titled ‘Deep Blue: Blue Carbon Finance in Coastal Ecosystems’, guidelines on how financial institutions can invest in blue carbon projects and blue finance.
Summary of the various opportunities identified by International Finance Corporation
on how financial institutions can invest in blue carbon projects and blue finance
The paper focuses on tidal wetlands in particular — hotspots for carbon storage as their soils sequester 10 times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, providers of coastal protection, biodiversity protection and pollution control.
Graphic of carbon sequestration offset by mangroves, saltmarshes
Recent projects have also begun exploring the impact of seaweed ecosystem restoration and seafloor management. As of June 2022, 24 projects have been registered or are in the pipeline, and the rate of uptake has been increasing. Verra (VCS) currently holds a majority with 20 projects, Plan Vivo has three and ACR just one.
Many barriers still remain, including a high-risk profile of blue carbon projects, small-scale and long-term frames, vulnerability to climate change affecting project viability, institutional complexities and land tenure issues.
Ocean Purpose Project, represented by Ms Mathilda D’Silva, will be attending the Second Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-2), scheduled to take place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 29 May to 2 June 2023. She will also be attending the United Nations Global Compact and the Global Seaweed Coalition Event on 1 June 2023, held at Maison de l'Océan in Paris.
Ocean Purpose Project is a proudly Singapore-based social enterprise aiming to solve the ocean pollution crisis and promote ocean conservation at scale. We aim to do this through our three main pillars - Plastic to Fuel (PTF), Bioremediation and Behavioural Change. We engage corporates and the community for beach clean ups, initiating behavioural change while a portion of the plastic waste collected are turned into hydrogen as a clean fuel.
Furthermore, OPP works with local coastal fish farmers to improve Singapore's waters by growing winding seaweed and mussel lines to act as a ‘curtain’ around a kelong. Seaweed and mussel lines are natural biofilters of the sea, removing the excess dissolved inorganic nitrogen from the water column, preventing algal blooms and improving water quality. Research is underway to investigate the potential of native seaweed and mussel species as 100% biodegradable plastics.
Thus the events in Paris are an excellent opportunity to explore tangible solutions to plastic pollution and explore ideas from around the world.