Cutting River Plastic Waste
Huge amounts of plastic waste are ending up in the ocean, threatening the health of marine ecosystems and coastal communities. This global crisis was identified in almost 40 submissions to the Benioff Ocean Initiative’s crowdsourcing campaign, including “Skimming the problem of ocean pollution” and “Identifying ocean plastic sources.”
It is estimated that the vast majority of marine plastic waste comes from land, and that almost all of this land-sourced marine waste is transported to the ocean from rivers. In fact, up to 275 metric tons of plastic are estimated to enter the ocean from rivers every hour on average, affecting the health of marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, seabirds, manta rays, and many other ocean species. The sheer volume of plastic waste entering the ocean this way creates an opportunity for implementing high-impact, cost-effective intervention strategies in polluted rivers around the world.
The Benioff Ocean Initiative and The Coca-Cola Foundation are partnering to provide $11 million to empower a global network of dedicated, passionate, and collaborative problem-solvers combating the flow of plastic waste from rivers to the ocean. This global network will consist of several interdisciplinary teams working around the world to pilot technologies for physical capture of plastic waste in highly-polluted rivers, and to catalyze policy-based, infrastructural, and societal change to reduce plastic waste inputs to those rivers. A global solution for the problem of plastic waste entering the ocean requires deployment of diverse interventions in rivers, so each intervention will be tailored to the equally diverse riverine and cultural environments where plastic waste is found.
Recipients of funding were selected through a competitive request for proposals process that took place May-July 2019. The Benioff Ocean Initiative received proposals for 30 projects across 5 continents and 16 countries. Due to the high volume of exciting and innovative proposals, we expanded the program from 1 to 9 projects, creating a global network of organizations working collaboratively to eliminate river plastic waste.
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A GLOBAL NETWORK
The global network will comprise 9 teams working to combat plastic waste in rivers. Each team is made up of several interdisciplinary partners under the leadership of one organization committed to protecting the environment from plastic waste.
We’ll be sharing more about each of the teams and their projects as they are finalized. Check back here for more information soon!
Marea Verde is leading the program’s first project, located in the Matias Hernandez River in Panama City, Panama. In recent years, as the waters and coastline of Panama Bay have been besieged by plastic pollution, Marea Verde has worked to remove trash from the Matias Hernandez River, the Costa del Este mangroves, and beaches surrounding Panama City. Starting in 2020, Marea Verde will adapt the successful and well-known Trash Wheel technology to the Matias Hernandez River and empower local communities to reduce waste in the watershed.
In November 2018, the Benioff Ocean Initiative convened a summit to develop a roadmap for cutting off the flow of plastic waste from rivers to the ocean. The conclusions of that summit were documented in a white paper that summarizes the state of science on river plastic waste emissions, highlights existing plastic capture strategies, and outlines a call to action for global efforts to eliminate river plastic waste.