Oceans contain 150m tonnes of plastic © NOAA Photo Library Follow
Oceans contain 150m tonnes of plastic © NOAA Photo Library Follow

Dell spearheads initiative against 'plastic pandemic'

13 December 2017

A new international collaboration project spearheaded by technology giant Dell has been launched in response to an international call to eliminate plastic pollution in oceans.

An estimated 150m metric tonnes of plastic waste are in the ocean today and every year around 8m metric tonnes more are being added, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

A study by the State University of New York at Fredonia and the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health revealed that the global drinking water supply is now contaminated with plastic fibres, further illustrating the scope of the plastics problem.

Last week in Nairobi over 200 countries signed a UN resolution to monitor the amount of plastic they put into the ocean, increase recycling and initiate measures that protect natural resources and prevent plastics from finding their way into the world’s oceans. Though not legally binding, the resolution has created a sense of urgency behind the issue. 

At the same time, the German environment agency announced plans to call for an EU-wide ban on microplastics in cosmetics.

Erik Solheim, executive director of UN Environment, said major companies should work together to help solve the issue.

“The oceans are facing a plastic pandemic and it is critical for companies to take ownership for their supply chain and for consumers to be aware of how their everyday choices can have a lasting legacy,” he said. 

Responding to issue, Dell and NGO Lonely Whale today announced they are spearheading the NextWave initiative, backed by UN Environment, along with founding partners including car manufactrer General Motors, Trek Bicycle, furniture retailers Herman Miller and Humanscale and carpet manufacturer Interface.

Additional supporting members of the group include environmental groups  5Gyres Institute, Zoological Society of London and New Materials Institute.

NextWave members plan to develop a sustainable model that reduces ocean-bound plastic pollution at scale, while creating an economic and social benefit for multiple stakeholders.

The group said it would ensure that the resulting supply chain has the infrastructure and support necessary to meet demand as well as align with globally approved social and environmental standards.

As part of their commitment, members have pledged to evaluate and prioritise opportunities for plastics reduction across operations, shipping and receiving, events, guest experiences, manufacturing and supplier engagement.

Dell said the NextWave initiative is anticipated to divert more than 3m lbs of plastic from entering the ocean within five years, the equivalent of keeping 66m water bottles from washing out to sea. 

Kevin Brown, chief supply chain officer at Dell, said the initiative will work with scientists and other stakeholders to develop a sustainable model that supports the needs of coastal communities and environments.

“Collaboration is critical to addressing the issue of ocean plastic at scale and I’m thrilled to partner closely with leaders across industries to advance our collective interests in creating solutions that create value from waste”, he said.

Meanwhile, a study by the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) has found that large river systems are the main culprits for plastic pollution in the oceans.

Their research, Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea, found that 10 river systems—eight in Asia and two in Africa—are responsible for around 90% of the global input of plastic in the sea.

Christian Schmidt, a hydrogeologist at the UFZ, said the key to stopping plastics from entering the ocean would be to firstly cut the amount of plastics in rivers.

“Halving the plastic input from the catchment areas of these rivers would already be a major success,” he said.

“To achieve this, it will be necessary to improve the waste management and raise public awareness for the issue.”

Top 10 most-polluting river systems:

  1. Yangtze River, China
  2. Hai He River, China
  3. Yellow River, China
  4. Mekong River, various countries
  5. Pearl River, China and Vietnam
  6. Indus River, China, India, Pakistan
  7. Ganges River, India and Bangaladesh
  8. Amur River, Russia and China
  9. Nile River, various countries
  10.  Niger River, various countries

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