Making Waves – Solving Marine Plastic Pollution at SXSW Eco

Since 1987, South By Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, has established itself as one of the most important annual gatherings of music industry trend-setters.  Recently, SXSW has expanded its model of showcasing the best and brightest from music to environmental innovation, and I am excited to join members of the NRDC team in participating in the third annual SXSW Eco.

Just as the 2,278 bands that performed earlier in 2013 presented a snapshot of the most innovative and groundbreaking sounds in music, SXSW Eco speakers and partners will present practical solutions to some of the world’s thorniest environmental challenges. NRDC will have a large presence at SXSW Eco, presenting on topics such as Designing a Healthy Food Future and Reducing Food Waste.

For my part, at SXSW Eco I will be discussing solutions to the growing problem of marine plastic pollution. I’ve pulled together a group of experienced innovators to present at a panel called Making Waves: Solving Marine Plastic Pollution. Our goals are to give the audience an understanding of the state of the problem of plastic pollution in the aquatic environment – both in the ocean and in fresh water – and share a suite of specific actions that individuals, business and governments can do to stem the tide of plastic waste polluting our waters.

According to numerous studies around the world, we know that plastic currently makes up about 60-90 percent of the waste that is found in the ocean. We also know that global production of single-use disposable products, such as food packaging and plastic bags, has steadily been on the rise. So far, most nations do not have the recycling infrastructure to keep pace, and the “throw-away culture” strongly influenced by disposable consumerism has spread to the far corners of the world.

The situation seems dire, but my fellow panelists and I will dig into solutions such as technological innovation and laws that require producers to take more responsibility for designing less wasteful packaging and ensuring that packaging is properly recycled. With nearly 700 species of marine life and many thousands of fish, birds, and animals killed or seriously injured by plastic debris, the problem has reached very serious levels. Not only does this waste harm the environment, it creates significant economic impacts. In California alone, a recent NRDC report shows that local governments are spending $428 million every year to prevent waste from reaching our waters.

We need action now to stem this tide of waste, and SXSW Eco is a great forum for the best solutions at our fingertips. If you’re not able to join us in Austin, join or follow us in Facebook and Twitter for information about our work to put these solutions in place in California and beyond.

Plastic Wave sculpture by Kathleen Egan, originally featured in a post by Beth Terry.