Energy & environment

Ocean plastic pollution

Whilst there is thankfully increasing attention being paid to ocean plastic pollution, I'm concerned that current government actions - mainly focussed on banning certain things like plastic bags - are largely tokenistic and not informed by the evidence of where the problem comes from - which as New Scientist reports, is substantially due to poor waste management in developing countries.
For example, this McKinsey study found that 55-60% of ocean plastic leaking from land comes from just 5 Asian countries (e.g. due to only 5% waste collection in rural China (40% overall) vs 90%+ in Philippines & developed countries), and this study found that 90% of river-borne plastic in the world’s oceans comes from just 10 rivers - 8 of them Asian (e.g. the Yangtze, Indus, Ganges & Mekong) and two in Africa (the Nile & Niger) - with all having large populations and poor waste management along their catchments.
My concern is that as recent public reaction to bag bans in Australia shows, there is a limit to what people are willing to "pay" (in $ & inconvenience) to address the problem of ocean plastic, so we need to ensure maximum "bang-for-buck".
Therefore top & urgent priorities (over the short-medium term) should be for richer countries to help poorer countries improve (& actually have!) waste collection & management (more importantly than promoting recycling).
For the longer term, the use of plastics may have relevance to oil & energy-use, so we do also need to support innovation for more efficient reuse & recycling, but initiatives in these areas need to balance competing issues, like the benefits of plastic for food hygiene & waste reduction, energy use, cost etc., so it's not simply a case of plastic = bad & re-use/cycling = good.  For example, a cotton tote bag must be used >130 times for a net environmental gain (& dogs have a bigger carbon footprint than a 4WD).
Funding to support an evidence-based strategy like this should come from small, pragmatic levies on the worst culprits for plastic waste, e.g. retail bags, bottles & fast-food packaging (which of course isn't possible if you simply ban these items) and maybe a general virgin-plastic production tax.

My letter about managing climate change risks, in the news in 2006: