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The Transition | November 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



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OpenOceans Global is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.



Did you know?

Rwanda and Norway lead a coalition of “high-ambition” governments at the United Nations plastic treaty negotiations seeking to eradicate plastic pollution by 2040.


Taking a Deeper Dive

Plastic Treaty Update: Negotiations devolve into either/or narratives

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Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia. Image credit: Shutterstock/Maxim Blinkov

As the third round of negotiations for the United Nations international plastic treaty ended in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 19, 2023, outgoing negotiation chair Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez said: “Much remains to be done both in narrowing down our differences and in developing technical work to inform our negotiations.”

On the day the negotiations began, November 13, 2023, CSIRO’s Deborah Lau published an article in PHYS.ORG describing the mutual benefits of the treaty. She said, “Regulatory tools such as multilateral agreements have three primary benefits:"

  1. They blend environmental responsibility with business imperatives. As a result, the regulatory changes open up new market opportunities.
  2. Global collaborations driven by these agreements often encourage the transfer of technologies across borders. These collaborations speed up the adoption of cleaner technologies.
  3. Multilateral environmental agreements can drive technological progress and industrial innovation. By establishing high standards and fostering global collaboration, these agreements blend environmental stewardship with industrial evolution.

Either/or Narratives Emerge

Those benefits have not yet been fully embraced by the companies and countries with the largest economic interests in the plastic supply chain. Instead, several either/or narratives have emerged. OpenOceans Global believes that an "either/or" position needs to shift to an “and” position.

  • Global enforceable regulations or national plans. Both global enforceable regulations and national plans to implement them are needed.
  • Eliminate plastic production or recycle all plastic through a circular economy. A significant reduction in plastic production and recycling as much as possible is imperative. Both require technology, behavior change, supply change modifications, and new waste management flows.
  • Waste management or reducing plastic production. Plastic gets into the environment because of a lack of waste management. Universally implemented waste management standards would have avoided the ocean plastic crisis. Even if all single-use plastic is replaced by a non-plastic alternative, without quality waste management, discarded trash, even if it isn't plastic, will still flow into rivers and to the sea. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that 109 million metric tons of plastic are already in lakes and rivers, making their way to the ocean. That amount is expected to triple by 2060 without international regulations. If all plastic production could be stopped today, plastic would continue to flow into the ocean for decades to come. Quality waste management and a reduction in plastic produced are mecessary. Waste management is not an excuse to keep producing plastic.

According to the Associated Press, two additional key elements emerged from the treaty negotiations that are potentially problematic:

  • The draft treaty revision became longer due to new proposals during this round and will be more difficult to advance, and
  • States failed to reach a consensus on work between now and the next negotiation session in April.

Diverse Perspectives Abound

The many and diverse perspectives of the negotiating interests complicate the challenge of completing the treaty negotiations.

Some oil companies want to change the focus of the treaty away from the entire lifecycle of plastic to waste management. Additionally, as with the climate treaty, they want national voluntary measures instead of global measures.

Other industry representatives argue for the benefits of plastics, like its use in piping and as materials for lightweight electric cars, while also seeing the treaty as part of a move away from fossil-based production. Leaders from the vinyl and expanded polystyrene (EPS) industries have expressed opposition against restricting, capping production, or reducing plastic availability and say they will defend every aspect of their supply chains.

Other companies have a broader view. Consumer product makers like Mars Inc., Coca-Cola Co., and Nestle, which are part of the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, believe the agreement should eliminate plastics that are hard to recycle, cut back on fossil-based plastics, or limit some production. One coalition member favors restrictions on plastic production “because the expected growth of virgin resin could make it difficult to reach the treaty's objectives.”

A Greenpeace representative said, “You cannot solve the plastic pollution crisis if you do not massively cut plastic production.” A WWF International representative was in alignment. He said, "The negotiators must be guided not by what the least ambitious countries are prepared to accept, but by the urgency of the plastic pollution crisis.”

How to Bring the Treaty Home: We Must Change

In the end, all parties agree the common goal is the elimination of plastic pollution in the environment and from reaching the ocean. How to get there is the challenge. The plastic negotiations host, Kenyan President William Ruto, had perhaps the best perspective on the problem. "We must change the way we consume, the way we produce, and how we dispose of our waste. Change is inevitable. This instrument [treaty] that we are working on is the first domino in that change. Let us bring it home," he said.


This Deeper Dive was developed in part from a review of the following resources:

  • Weeklong negotiations for landmark treaty to end plastic pollution close, marred in disagreements, AP News
  • In UN talks for a global plastic treaty, delegates to face off over production limits, Reuters
  • Sustainable Switch
  • Nations negotiate terms of global plastic pollution treaty in Kenya, France24
  • We need a global treaty to solve plastic pollution - acid rain and ozone depletion show us why, PHYS.ORG
  • As plastics treaty talks restart, industry hopes pact boosts move away from fossil fuel production, Plastics News
  • Vinyl industry talks benefits, fights restrictions at treaty talks, Plastics News
  • An ‘uneasy truce' on opening day of plastics treaty talks, Plastics News
  • EPS industry works to avoid status as ‘problematic' at treaty talks, Plastics News
  • Mixed signs of agreement, warnings mark end of latest treaty talks, Plastics News
  • Resin makers, brand owners differ on plastics treaty priorities, Plastics News


Tracking Plastic News

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Image credit: Max Gustafson

  • Southeast Asia flooded with imported plastic waste meant for recycling, PBS News Hour, November 23, 2023
  • Philippine Island Tackles the Plastic Crisis Head-On, Sets Example for the Global Plastics Treaty Negotiations, pressenza, November 15, 2023
  • Plastic or paper? The truth about drinking straws, BBC, November 5, 2023
  • Plastics Recycling Europe calls for ‘urgent measures' to protect industry, Plastics News, October 12, 2023
  • 9 environmental organizations empowering long-term change with the circular fashion economy, 1% for the Planet, November 7, 2023
  • Beyond Plastics report says chemical recycling not a viable solution, Plastics News, October 31, 2023
  • The Global Plastic Laws Database: A Resource to Track Policies Around the World, Plastic Pollution Coalition, October 16, 2023
  • Accelerating the Scaling of Reuse Systems: Policy Brief, University of Portsmouth, 2023
  • 2023 Plastic Free Holiday Gift Guide, Plastic Pollution Coalition, 2023


Help Locate Plastic-Fouled Coastlines

Each month we share an image of a beach fouled by plastic.  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: Lamu Island, Kenya

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Image credit: Kenya Star

Poor waste management, resulting in plastic trash being dumped on beaches, along with contributions of plastic from the Western Indian Ocean, are polluting the Lamu archipelago. The stretch of beach from Old Town Lamu to Shela Beach attracts massive amounts of plastic. "The ban on single-use plastics in protected areas, which includes beaches, seems inoperative, yet. From our exploration, it is clear that there is no restriction and that everyone is free to carry their drinks in single-use bottles to the beach," according to the Kenya Star.



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: Dr. Bronner’s Refill Station

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Image credit: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has been known since the 1940s as a producer of organic soaps and personal care products. The company has also been addressing plastic pollution in its product line. Dr. Bronner’s Refill Station was Inspired by the keg refill and distribution model of the brewing industry to launch a refill station. In 2022, the firm trialed a bulk dispensing system in partnership with Kombucha on Tap, a local company that distributes and services keg stations of organic kombucha and cold brew at locations across Southern California, and Jimbo’s Naturally, an organic grocery retailer. The trial included a bulk dispensing system, pricing, in-store marketing campaigns, and empty container reverse logistics in Jimbo’s flagship store in San Diego. In 2023, the firm expanded the refill stations to three additional Jimbo stores and the Ocean Beach People’s Food Co-Op. Dr. Bronner sells large drums of its soap to its distributor, who then fills smaller containers to sell to the stores. The distributor services the stores’ refill stations, swapping out the empty smaller containers with freshly refilled ones. When the distributor’s drums are emptied, they are returned to Dr. Bronner’s and refilled, repeating loops of durable containers moving liquid soap from factory to shopper.



Meet the Experts and Leaders

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

Dave Ford, Founder, Ocean Plastics Leadership Network (OPLN)

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Image credit: Ocean Plastics Leadership Network

Dave Ford is the founder of the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network (OPLN), connecting 400+ industry leaders, environmental groups, and governments to collaborate on solving the ocean plastics crisis. An active participant in addressing the progress of the UN’s international plastics treaty, Ford says, “we need a global plastics treaty to stop an environmental disaster - and truly global participation in the process will create more than just a Paris Agreement for plastics." Since founding OPLN in 2019, Ford has been aggressively working to bring all sides to the plastics crisis table, most recently through OPLN’s Global Plastics Treaty Dialogues virtual summit series engineered to build capacity and understanding around a Global Plastics Treaty. He has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience and has traveled the world extensively to visit environmental hot spots, which he leverages to create impactful and innovative solutions for the ocean plastics crisis and climate change. OPLN’s formative event occurred in the middle of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of the five major garbage patches littering our oceans. He invited 165 leaders to get a close-up look at the damage being done. They included representatives of global industry, activism, governments, trade groups, and NGOs.

Kate Bailey, Chief Policy Officer, Association of Plastics Recyclers

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Image credit: Association of Plastic Recyclers

Kate Bailey is the Chief Policy Officer for the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), the only North American organization focused exclusively on improving recycling of plastics. APR’s tools and resources help companies design packaging that can be recycled, support innovations that overcome existing recycling challenges, and encourage stable and reliable markets for post-consumer recycled content. Bailey has more than 15 years of experience working with legislators, local governments, consumer goods companies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to implement actionable, effective solutions to improve recycling. She has championed numerous local and state policies, including Colorado’s groundbreaking Producer Responsibility for Packaging program, making Colorado the first state in the U.S. to require brand owners to fully fund and manage a statewide recycling system for all packaging and printed paper. She also helped launch a $100 million grant fund in Colorado to expand recycling and composting. Bailey previously served as the policy and research director for Eco-Cycle, a nonprofit pioneer in recycling and zero-waste operations and programs. “The U.S. is terrible at recycling, and we can and must do better now,” she says. Her personal goals are to accelerate effective state, national, and global policies to quickly scale up responsible recycling as a key solution to reduce climate pollution, protect public health, drive green jobs, and build stronger, more resilient domestic supply chains. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A in environmental studies and economics.



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