Co-founder and President of the Ocean Legacy Foundation
The plastic pollution crisis meets the underlying criteria necessary to classify the issue as a threat to global security, yet it lacks a legally binding global treaty.
The potential long-term detrimental health effects of plastic pollution remain contentious while environmental implications are wide-ranging and globally devastating. Investigatory research demonstrates genuine cause for concern and evolving consequences when evaluating the effects of mismanaged plastic waste. When defining matters of global security using a plastic pollution lens, traditional definitions of security are widened to include matters of environment, health, and civil rights. These matters are increasingly being considered politically important and, as matters of security, as they take the center stage of many political agendas globally.
Defining security and plastic pollution
When defining matters of global security, research demonstrates that specific criteria must be met, which include:
- Threat to preservation of international peace
- Transboundary threat
- Political action has been taken
- The issue has “real-world” consequences
- Drastically threatens or degrades the quality of life of state inhabitants over a brief time span
These underlying criteria are found in other significant environmental crises that are well established as threats to global security such as global climate change, biodiversity and species loss, invasive species, ozone depletion, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These recognized threats have extensive binding global treaties which catalyze global action to minimize or eliminate their effect. What is alarming, however, with the issue of plastic pollution is that, although it meets all the same criteria, the world has not yet developed a globally binding treaty to curb the devastating effects and serious risk of this ubiquitous pollution. To make matters worse, plastic pollution contributes to many of the existing recognized ecological threats to global security, worsening their cumulative effects such as atmospheric carbon.
Finding solutions among the disparity
There are no proven formulas which provide one solution to ending the plastic pollution crisis. Solutions must be localized, diverse, accessible, and as equally complex as the issue of plastic pollution itself. Over the last decade, Ocean Legacy has been creating a plastic pollution emergency response program called EPIC, a strategic platform which integrates Education, Policy, Infrastructure, and Cleanup. This program was designed to educate a global population around the effects of plastic pollution, to build advocacy tools, and identify policy gaps that build effective practices which manage plastic wastes, to give plastic waste an economic value and stimulate the plastic circular economy with infrastructure development, to provide training to facilitate cleanups, and to develop immersive learning tools to steward the natural environment.
The future of plastic is circular. Circularity is a founding ideology that I believe will become the accepted norm which sustains the very basis of humanity’s survival. Circularity is where humanity learns to harmonize its behaviour with nature and provides the opportunity to reevaluate and redesign our current state of affairs. To move forward into a life-supporting reality, establishing the following will be critical:
- We need a coordinated globally binding treaty to catalyze world-wide action and to harmonize patch work policy
- We must teach our children the importance of building a meaningful relationship with the natural planet and educate the general population on the threat of plastic pollution
- The need for more long-term research on the human health effects of plastic pollution is urgent
- Mandating recycled content standards in manufacturing and redesigning products with their full life cycle in mind must become common practice
- Capital investment to build new systems which foster behaviour change and develop infrastructure are paramount