Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Plastic bottle along the shoreline.
Catherine Sheila/Pexels
ISSUE

Oceanic Plastic Pollution

The pollution of the world’s oceans with plastic has become a major issue. Humans dump up to 13 million metric tons of plastic into the oceans every year, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Plastic will take hundreds of years to break down, if at all, or it fractures through the process of photodegradation into tiny micro-sized pieces that end up being eaten by marine life, and from there is is possible it will be consumed by humans in seafood. Discarded nets trap fish and marine mammals, and bags are mistaken for jellyfish. Plastic floating on the surface can block sunlight from filtering into the water below and stunt the growth of plankton and algae. As the base of the oceanic food chain, all the rest of marine life depends on it. 

How do keep more plastic out of the ocean? How do we clean up what's already there? The Nicholas Institute is working with partner organizations to tackle this challenge and find ways to solve one of the biggest environmental concerns of the day.

Publications

Plastic Pollution Solutions: Emerging Technologies to Prevent and Collect Marine Plastic Pollution

As plastic waste accumulates in the ocean at alarming rates, the need for efficient and sustainable remediation solutions is urgent. One solution is the development and mobilization of technologies that either 1) prevent plastics from entering waterways or 2) collect marine and riverine plastic pollution. To date, however, few reports have focused on these technologies, and information on various technological developments is scattered.

20 Years of Government Responses to the Global Plastic Pollution Problem

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a global problem that requires cooperation from a wide range of groups (e.g., governments, producers, consumers, researchers, civil society). This study aims to synthesize the policy response of governments to the global plastic pollution problem, as a basis for more rigorous monitoring of progress (as called for in Resolution 4/6 of the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting) and to inform future public policies.

Projects

Plastic Pollution Working Group

Plastic has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives that global plastic production approached the combined weight of the human population in 2015. Unfortunately, much of this plastic ends up in the environment as litter, and it is estimated that 710 million metric tons of plastic waste will enter the environment by 2040, even with immediate and concerted action.