On Thursday morning, the California Ocean Protection Council will hopefully approve its long-awaited marine debris action plan. The plan was drafted by Drew Bohan, OPC’s executive director and dedicated ocean activist, and state staff in response to the OPC’s far-reaching marine debris resolution nearly two years ago.
Despite the long wait, the plan is pretty good. It calls for the prohibition of polystyrene take-out food packaging, a ban on smoking at state beaches and recommendations for the installation of cigarette butt receptacles at clubs and bars and outside offices, as well as the redesign of single-use packaging to reduce their likelihood of becoming marine debris (e.g. leashed or tethered bottle caps).
The plan also seeks the reduction of toxic substances in plastic packaging in collaboration with Department of Toxic Substances Control, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, and Department of Conservation; the assessment of fees on commonly littered items and an increase in litter fines to support local enforcement of anti-litter laws and educational programs such as the Education and the Environment Initiative; the establishment of a broader base of regional partners in the Pacific region to reduce marine debris in our ocean ecosystems; and the placement of a consumer fee on single-use plastic bags. All great stuff.
Any action plan that suffers through a year of bureaucratic review is going to have some weaknesses, and this plan is no exception. The plan should include plastic bag bans as a viable option for stopping plastic bag pollution in our rivers, beaches and coastal waters. Fees aren’t the only solution. Also, the plan is extremely short on achievement deadlines and doesn’t include specific legislative recommendations. These are critical for successful implementation.
The plan includes recommendations on derelict fishing gear, but they don’t go far enough. Gear should be registered with the state and all lost gear should be reported, mapped on GIS, and then prioritized for clean-up. Finally, the action plan includes sections on extended producer responsibility (EPR) that are vague. Specific actions to make EPR happen for common marine debris are necessary for program success.
If you are sick of trash on the beach and in the ocean, make yourself heard on Thursday. The OPC needs to hear that marine debris is a global environmental crisis and California should take the lead in cleaning up trash in the Pacific.
Passage of the action plan is necessary if marine debris pollution abatement efforts are to move from rhetoric to reality. Beach and river clean-up volunteers alone can’t solve this problem, and we cannot recycle our way to a solution either. Bans, fees, EPR, source reduction, green chemistry, derelict fishing gear registration and clean up requirements, product re-engineering are all needed along with education and volunteer efforts to truly make a difference.