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The Transition | September 2023
People and progress in solving the ocean plastic crisis

About OpenOceans Global. Our work centers on mapping ocean plastic, curating the best solutions, and linking together a community of ocean plastic experts and leaders. Learn more on the Weather Channel's Pattrn interview, NBC7/39's Down to Earth segment, and ArcNews.

Past issues of The Transition.

OpenOceans Global News

Do you have at least one image of a beach packed with plastic waste?

OpenOceans Global continues to seek photographs of densely packed plastic on world shorelines to train an AI algorithm that can find beaches via satellite imagery. The 50 images we are gathering are being found one at a time. If you have a photo in your archive or that you can take that meets the requirements, please send it to allofus@openoceans.org.

UN releases first draft of plastic treaty

The United Nations has completed the first draft of the international plastic treaty. Known as the “zero draft,” it provides a written template from which to begin at the next negotiating session in November.

OpenOceans Global presents treaty comments to the UN

As an accredited observer of the United Nations international plastic treaty process, OpenOceans Global presented written comments to be considered prior to the next negotiating session. We also were part of a select group invited to present those comments via Zoom during a UN webinar on September 5, 2023. You can watch our short presentation here.



Did you know?

The Research Council of Norway has identified 16,000 plastic chemicals, 25% of which have been classified as hazardous. No plastic chemical has been classified as safe.


Taking a Deeper Dive

Chemicals and Polymers of Concern – a Plastic Treaty Priority

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Anatomy of plastics – overview of key components in plastics.
Image credit: United Nations Environment Programme

One of the proposed core objectives of the international plastic treaty is “banning, phasing out, and/or reducing the production, consumption, and use of chemicals and polymers of concern” found in plastics. A recent United Nations technical webinar addressed this issue as a preliminary to the next round of treaty negotiations in November 2023.

The International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) provided a framework for understanding the problem. The framework was derived from the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) recent publication, Chemicals in Plastic: A Technical Report.

Chemicals are an integral part of plastics. According to the UNEP report more than 13,000 substances have been associated with plastics. 7,000 of these have been analyzed. More than 3,200 are of potential concern. The Research Council of Norway has identified even more chemicals in plastic: 16,000, 25% of which have been classified as hazardous. In addition, no plastic chemical has been classified as safe. The Council has created a framework to prioritize chemicals relative to their safety and anticipates publishing a state-of-the-art science report in January 2024.

Chemicals in plastic can be lumped into four categories:

  1. Monomers and polymers – the main building blocks of plastic materials.
  2. Additives – which bring desired functionality to the plastic material.
  3. Other intentionally added substances – such as starting materials and catalysts.
  4. Non-intentionally added substances – such as solvents, cleaning agents, or impurities from manufacturing or recycling.

Ten groups of chemicals are of concern due to their hazardous properties, according to the IPCP. Additives are of particular concern since they are typically not bound to the polymer and, therefore, are released from plastic over time, leading to ecosystem and human exposures. They are categorized into another group of four:

  1. Plasticizers – to make plastic softer and flexible.
  2. Fillers – that occupy space without changing functional properties.
  3. Flame retardants – to reduce flammability and prevent the spread of fire.
  4. Other – including colorants, antioxidants, heat and light stabilizers, lubricants, biocides, or antistatic agents.

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Human exposure to chemicals in plastics.
Image credit: United Nations Environment Programme

Plastic chemicals impact human health and the environment

Chemicals of concern in plastics impact human health and the environment. Women and children are particularly susceptible. Chemicals reach humans through inhalation of contaminated air, ingestion of contaminated food, water, and dust, and dermal contact.

Humans are exposed to chemicals in plastic in everyday plastic products such as food contact materials, electronics, textiles, clothing, personal care and household products, children’s toys, clothing, or furniture, and through occupational exposure.

Examples of adverse health effects from chemicals in plastic include abnormal hormone functions, reduced fertility, a damaged nervous system, hypertension/cardiovascular disease, and lung and liver cancer.

Hazardous chemicals can be released all along the plastic life cycle, finding their way into air, water, and soil. They are released during extraction and processing of raw materials, plastic production, plastic product manufacturing, use of plastic products, recycling, and disposal. Open burning of plastic waste releases toxic chemicals such as dioxins and furans.

The above summary provides a simple view of the challenges of chemicals in plastic which is necessary to fulfill the core objective of the plastic treaty in regard to these chemicals.

The plastic treaty mandate to address chemicals of concern looks to existing international agreements that can serve as models according to the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm conventions. The Montreal Protocol addresses ozone-depleting substances, the Basel Convention focuses on hazardous wastes and control of transboundary movements, the Stockholm Convention controls production use, import/exports, and unintentional releases of persistent organic pollutants, and the Rotterdam Convention has a review process for 55 hazardous chemicals to protect human health and the environment. These models will hopefully be helpful in crafting the elements of the plastic treaty addressing chemicals of concern.



Tracking Plastic News

  • A state of ‘doom’ in the [plastic scrap] market - Plastic scrap prices have remained low in recent months across most grades as low-cost virgin material, weather events and more have affected markets, Recycling Today, September 2023
  • The toughest plastic bag ban is failing: A tale of smugglers, dumps and dying goats, NPR, September 9, 2023
  • Sorry, your paper cup is a plastic nightmare, Wired, September 1, 2023
  • Some see ‘misguided' chemical recycling limits in EPA plastics-to-fuels plan, Plastics News, August 31, 2023
  • Prince of Plastic Karim Rashid brings recycled plastics to design, Plastics News, August 31, 2023
  • Container redemption rates, for the most part, stagnant in '22, Plastics News, August 31, 2023
  • Scientists discover wild new way to make ‘infinitely recyclable’ plastic alternative, The Cool Down, August 30, 2023
  • Researchers break down, rebuild polyurethane to make new foam, PHYS.ORG, August 29, 2023
  • Microplastics discovered in the body tissues of whales, dolphins and seals, sparking concerns for human health, PHYS.ORG, August 24, 2023
  • Why We Need to Phase Plastic Out of Fashion, Plastic Pollution Coalition, August 24, 2023


Help Locate Plastic-Fouled Coastlines

Each month we share an image of a beach fouled by plastic, like the one below. The images we share are confirmed by OpenOceans Global’s team, but there are many beaches in the world that we know are fouled by ankle-deep plastic that lack location data and backup information. You can help us find these beaches and put them on our ocean plastic trash map. To report a shoreline pervasively fouled by significant amounts of plastic debris, use our online plastic trash reporting app. Thank you!

This Month’s Coastal Hotspot: Mustang Island, Texas

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Image Credit: Texas Climate News

More and more plastic debris accumulates along the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, like this beach on Mustang Island, an 18-mile-long barrier island stretching from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas, Texas. An article in Climate News said that Texas “has more plastic debris along its waterfront than any other state in the nation … and ten times more than the beaches of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.” According to a report funded by NOAA, Texas marine debris is driven by litter from the coastal portion of the state. A citizen group called Beach Keepers was formed in 2019 to have “clean parks and beaches everywhere.”



Solutions to the Ocean Plastic Crisis

See more solutions on our ocean plastic solutions page.  Have a solution we should know about? Submit it here.

This Month's Featured Solution: Ball aluminum cups

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Image credit: Ball Corporation

Move over red plastic cups. Recyclable aluminum cups are taking your place on beer bong tables. The college fraternity party game of choice was notorious for a stream of red plastic cups crushed on the floor and out the door. Not to mention that those red cups that became trash and litter at tailgates, stadiums, restaurants, and beaches. Ball Corporation says their aluminum cups “outshine plastic for about the same cost” and are 100 percent recyclable. Not to mention they are reusable. “They even keep drinks a little bit cooler” according to the company.


Meet the Experts and Leaders

OpenOceans Global is identifying ocean plastic experts from around the world. Here is an expert leading efforts to reduce plastic pollution that you should know about.

Dr. Roland Weber, International Consultant for United Nations Organizations

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Image credit: Chemical Watch/Roland Weber

Dr. Roland Weber is a world-renowned expert on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and their impact on the environment. He has dedicated his career to researching and raising awareness about the dangers of POPs, including the pervasive issue of chemicals in plastic. Weber has worked with a number of UN organizations, including UNIDO, UNEP, UNDP, and the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention, to develop strategies for reducing the use of POPs and finding safer alternatives. His work has helped to shape international policy on this important issue. He is one of the lead authors of the recently released technical report of UNEP: Chemicals in Plastic, which will help inform the plastic treaty process. Throughout his career, Weber has been an influential figure in pushing for regulations and policies to mitigate the risks posed by POPs, including POPs in plastic. He has collaborated with governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and industry to raise awareness about the dangers of toxic substances in plastic products. His advocacy efforts had an impact in driving changes in POPs policies and reduction in the use of hazardous chemicals impacting product design and manufacturing processes. One of Weber's most notable achievements is the support of low and middle-income countries in their efforts to implement the Stockholm Convention and the understanding of POPs (including plastic additives) pollution of the environment and contamination of the food chain. His efforts have contributed to the adoption of safer alternatives to harmful chemicals in plastic and the promotion of recycling. Additionally, he is an advocate for extended producer responsibility. He has published more than 200 articles. Weber has a diploma and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Tübingen/Germany.


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