I am sure that everyone knows about the problem of ocean plastics. This is one of the most important global waste management problems. Just think about it for a while. Here are some facts:
• The average concentration is estimated around 46.000 plastic pieces/ sq. mile
• There are cases where plastic waste is 6 times more than the plankton
• It is estimated that 10% of the global plastic production ends up in the ocean
• It is considered that there are more than 7.000.000 tons of plastic floating around the world
Few years ago, during a key-nore lecture in 2009 ISWA's conference in Lisbon, I concluded that the problem of ocean plastics is an indicator of our global inefficiency to manage waste in an environmental sound way even in what we consider advanced waste management systems! And this becomes more and more true, as the time goes by without any actual solution to that problem (for more see the 5gyres website).
But now, there is evidence that ocean plastics and marine litter are not onluy a serious environmentla threat bot also an environmenttal catastrophe!
A recent study (McIlgorm A., Campbell, H.F., Rule, M.J., 2011, The economic cost and control of marine debris damage in the Asia-Pacific region. Ocean & Coastal Management. 54: 643-651) has now estimated that marine litter in the Asia-Pacific region is likely to cost over US$1.26 billion per year in damage to marine industries.
Based on these assumptions, the study estimated the cost of damage to marine industries to be US$1.26billion per year. This is very likely to be an underestimate as data on marine debris are lacking. However, it clearly highlights the significance of the issue. Debris is also harmful to wildlife, and can therefore reduce ecosystem services - this is another important indirect cost to consider, but as there is presently no market value for these services, the study did not calculate these costs.
Further calculations suggest that the cost of clearing up plastic waste in this region, whether at sea or on beaches, amounts to $1500 per tonne of waste, on average, although costs of individual clean-ups vary considerably ($100-$20,000 per tonne) depending on the type of waste and method.
The costs of damage and clean-ups need to be weighed up against the costs of prevention, say the researchers, and setting a policy target for achieving an optimal level of waste at sea would be more economically feasible than a zero waste target.