California Ocean Litter Strategy takes aim at multiple pollution sources

plastic bottle on a beach
June 18, 2018
Media Contact— Katherine Leitzell / kleitzell@ucsd.edu / (858) 246-1661

The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program have released an ambitious new strategy for reducing ocean litter that goes beyond traditional cleanup efforts to include a broad range of actions aimed at preventing and reducing marine debris throughout the state.

Marine debris, including microplastics and microfibers, continues to be a major problem worldwide as well as in California, with consequences for human health, the economy, and the environment. The new strategy, a joint OPC and NOAA Marine Debris Program document adopted April 24 by the OPC, proposes new methods to address these issues by reducing litter at the source. The final version of the adopted strategy was published today.

Working closely with the planning team, California Sea Grant’s Miho Ligare and Nina Venuti helped develop the strategy by coordinating stakeholder workshops, drafting the document, and incorporating public comment.

“The new strategy is really forward-thinking,” says Venuti. “Rather than focusing solely on cleanup and education, it looks at producers, at industry, and at institutions to see what role each of us can play in reducing marine debris. The hope is to stop this pollution at the source, instead of having to deal with it once it’s in the environment.”

The strategy is an update to California’s first Ocean Litter Strategy, launched in 2008, which set a variety of goals, many of which have been achieved or are in progress, such as the single-use plastic carryout bag ban which was ratified by California voters in 2016.

“Stakeholders in the state of California have done really well in their work on this topic, especially in beach cleanups, education, and outreach,” says Ligare. “What’s different about this strategy is that it goes beyond that to focus on source reduction. How do we approach our use of products in daily life, and prevent our waste from ending up in the environment?”  

The strategy aims to set California’s agenda on the issue for the next six years. It takes into account new research, including a wealth of new information on microplastics and microfibers. It also incorporates a broad range of stakeholder views, from environmental organizations and state agencies to the packaging and restaurant industries. Bringing the full range of those voices into the process was challenging, say Venuti and Ligare, but a prerequisite for the strategy to be successful.

“Marine debris is such a complex, multifaceted issue. There are so many people working on it, in different ways, and so many people and groups who are affected by the policies aimed at reducing ocean litter. For that reason, it was crucial to have collaboration,” explains Venuti.

The final strategy includes two sets of goals, including three set by the state and six that were gathered from stakeholder groups. The first set of goals outline the actions the Ocean Protection Council will take to address ocean litter over the next six years. The second set of goals includes a checklist of tasks, along with lists of groups and agencies that have volunteered to take the lead on each item.

“Marine debris is a huge issue,” says Ligare. “But this process has been inspiring because it really shows how we can make an impact, collectively, in California.”

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.