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Fighting for Trash Free Seas®

Ending the flow of trash at the source

Trash Free Seas Alliance®

Ocean Conservancy hosted the Trash Free Seas Alliance® from 2012-2022. During its ten years, it focused on innovative and pragmatic solutions to rid the ocean of plastic pollution and other forms of marine debris. Through the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, corporate members collectively committed millions of dollars for research on ways to improve waste collection and recycling in parts of the world most impacted by ocean plastic pollution. Conservation members provided insights via research, policy recommendations and collaboration across individual initiatives. Many of the members also supported Circulate Capital and The Circulate Initiative, the investment management firms created in partnership with Ocean Conservancy and Closed Loop Partners dedicated to financing companies, projects and infrastructure to prevent ocean plastic pollution. Highlights from the TFSA’s active years are below, noted in the form of Signature Initiatives.

Signature Initiatives

ASPPIRe: Advancing Solutions to Plastic Pollution through Inclusive Recycling

In many parts of the world most impacted by plastic pollution, local governments don’t have the resources to collect and manage all the waste and plastic generated. It is estimated that 2 billion people do not have access to organized waste collection services. Unfortunately, that means vast amounts of uncollected plastic and other types of pollution wash into sewers and through waterways into the ocean.

Ocean Conservancy supports policy measures to reduce the number of plastics being produced, particularly the amount of single-use plastics, and supports a transition to reuse/refill/repair systems. In the meantime, much work can be done to support improved collection and management—and the people working in these fields.

Informal waste collectors, or waste pickers, in many of these same places earn their living by collecting discarded plastic products—mostly “high-value” items like bottles—and selling them to recycling facilities. It is not uncommon for waste pickers to have no formal identification, and to lack access to health services and education; their income levels are often unstable and working conditions can be unsafe. And yet, waste pickers are providing a vital service and should be recognized for their critical contributions to waste management, and recycling, in particular. According to the International Labor Organization, an estimated 15-20 million informal sector waste collectors are responsible for nearly 60% of all plastics collected globally for recycling (Lau et al. 2020).

How We Can Help:

Ocean Conservancy released a preliminary report in 2020 that identified opportunities to improve the health, safety and income of informal waste collectors in parts of the world most impacted by plastic pollution, while helping to keep plastics out of waterways and eventually the ocean.

The report recommended three areas for action:

  • Provide the informal sector workforce with information, skills, technology and equipment through existing support organizations
  • Expand informal sector processing capacity of low-value plastics (plastics not currently being collected)
  • Stabilize the market for low-value plastics at a level that will encourage collection and maximize income to provide meaningful economic gains for workers

Trash Free Seas Alliance® members decided to put the recommendations into action and created: ASPPIRe (Advancing Solutions to Plastic Pollution through Inclusive Recycling). ASPPIRe piloted new models in Vietnam and Colombia through an innovative partnership with Inclusive Waste Recycling Consortium (iWrc), an experienced global organization leading efforts to bolster working conditions for informal waste sector workers, while also developing end-markets for low-value plastics like plastic bags and films.

The project launched publicly in April 2021 at the World Circular Economy Forum + Climate.

Plastics Policy Playbook (2019)

Investing in waste management is critical; however, additional measures will be needed. The Plastics Policy Playbook identified four key themes to improve the economics of collection across the value chain:

  • Financing the collection via Extended Producer Responsibility measures
  • Reducing the production and use of problematic single-use plastics
  • Designing for circularity

The Playbook also identified engagement and inclusion of the informal sector as one of the key principles for success.

In 2020, the Trash Free Seas Alliance® worked with its members and Steering Committee to design its next Signature Initiative aimed at initiatives focused on the inclusion of the informal sector.

Circulate Capital (2018)

Armed with the knowledge of the financing gap for waste management, Ocean Conservancy and the Trash Free Seas Alliance worked to design and launch Circulate Capital. This collective effort aims to:

  • Build an investment pool and funding mechanism
  • Advocate governments to prioritize waste management
  • Test business models in high leakage cities
The Next Wave: Investment Strategies for Plastic Free Seas (2017)

This report helped us understand how to systematically break down the barriers to effective waste management that will ultimately stem the flow of plastic waste into the ocean. It highlighted that most waste management systems operate at a net cost and that to improve waste collection the economics of these systems will need to change. The report’s recommendations were taken up by the 21 economies within Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and endorsed at its Ministerial Meeting in 2016.

TFSA Technical Advisors 2012-2022

Dr. Kara Lavender Law

Dr. Kara Lavender Law is a Research Professor of Oceanography at Sea Education Association (SEA; Woods Hole, Massachussetts), studying the sources, distribution, transformation and fate of plastic debris in the ocean. Trained as a physical oceanographer, Dr. Law has more than 12 months of sea time on oceanographic and sailing research vessels, including in the eastern North Pacific and western North Atlantic Oceans where plastic debris accumulates in regions dubbed, “garbage patches.”  Dr. Law’s current research interests focus on the sources of plastic to the marine environment, understanding how ocean physics determines the distribution of plastic and other marine debris, and the degradation and ultimate fate of different plastic materials in the ocean.  She is co-chair of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) Working Group Floating Litter and its Oceanic TranSport Analysis and Modelling (FLOTSAM), and serves as the co-principal investigator of the Marine Debris Working Group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Dr. Law holds a PhD in physical oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a BS in mathematics from Duke University.

Dr. Ramani Narayan

Dr. Ramani Narayan, is a University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science. He has 200+ refereed publications in leading journals, 32 issued patents and has edited three books in the area of environmentally responsible bio-based materials. He is the founding Chair of the Committee on Environmentally Degradable Plastics and Biobased Products. He also serves as the USA technical expert to International Standards Organization (ISO) and is scientific advisor to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), USDA BioPreferred Program; European certification organizations and other NGOs. He is a Fellow of the United States National Academy of Inventors and a Fellow of ASTM International; and has received the ASTM award of merit, the highest society award; DuPont’s Packaging Award for excellence in Innovation & Sustainability with the Coca Cola Plant bottle team; Michigan Green Chemistry Governor’s Award & State of Michigan Governor’s University Award for Commercialization Excellence; and the Fulbright Distinguished Lectureship Chair in Science & Technology Management & Commercialization, among others.

Dr. Chelsea Rochman

Chelsea Rochman is an Assistant Professor in Ecology at the University of Toronto and a scientific advisor to Ocean Conservancy. Chelsea received her PhD in Ecology from a joint program between University of California, Davis and San Diego State University in 2013. She then was a Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Biology. She was hired as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2016. Chelsea has been researching the sources, sinks and ecological implications of plastic debris in marine and freshwater habitats for more than a decade. She has published dozens of scientific papers in respected journals and has led international working groups about plastic pollution. In addition to her research, Chelsea works to translate her science beyond academia. For example, Chelsea presented her work to the United Nations General Assembly and at the U.S. Department of State.

Dr. Ambrose Jearld Jr.
Dr. Ambrose Jearld Jr.

Dr. Ambrose Jearld, Jr. graduated from Maryland State College (now University of Maryland Eastern Shore) with a degree in Biology in 1965. Between earning his M.S. (1970) and Ph.D. (1975) at Oklahoma State University, he was drafted and served as a research biologist two years in the U.S. Army. He taught biology at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and zoology at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 1978 he began a thirty-eight year career with the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Woods Hole Laboratory. A fisheries biologist in the Woods Hole NEFSC lab, Dr. Jearld conducted and published research and served in many appointments, including Chief of the Fishery Biology Investigation, Chief of the Research Planning and Evaluation Section, and Chief of the Research Planning and Coordination Staff. He was the Director of Academic Programs at the NEFSC and the founding Director (in 2009) for the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program.

Throughout his career Dr. Jearld has been a strong advocate of NOAA’s commitment to diversity and equity in employment. He has devoted much of his career to fostering NOAA’s goal of maintaining a workplace in which all people are respected as individuals and valued for their contributions. His work with NOAA, higher education institutions (especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions) has helped make oceanography and marine biology more accessible to a diverse body of students and research faculty. He is a charter member and former chair of the Woods Hole Scientific Community’s Black History Month Committee and chair of the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee.

Dr. Jearld also served NOAA internationally, providing science and technical support for six West African countries around the Gulf of Guinea. He also served as a NOAA employee in South Africa, helping with the transition to a new government and serving on the US/South African Gore-Mbeki Bi-National Commission. Upon Dr. Jearld’s retirement from the NEFSC, the Woods Hole scientific community honored him with an annual lectureship in recognition of his work on improving diversity and inclusion within the ocean sciences community. The Ambrose Jearld, Jr. Lectureship was established in 2017.

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