Celebrating Our Marine Ecosystems: World Oceans Day
Chief Scientist, Personal Care Products Council
World Oceans Day, celebrated on June 8, provides the opportunity to recognize the vital need to protect our oceans. Covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface, the Arctic, Southern, Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans contribute innumerable benefits to our planet and all that lives here. Oceans provide half of the world’s oxygen; absorb 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere; help regulate the earth’s climate; enable transportation and recreation; are the feedstock for many medicines; and provide significant economic benefits to society. Oceans are a key natural resource, upon which hundreds of millions of people depend, and are essential to the welfare and prosperity of human life.1
The earth’s oceans make our planet livable. Over-fishing, sea water acidification, warming temperatures and rising sea levels (caused by climate change) and pollution, however, are threatening their ability to support marine life — and us.
Plastic pollution is perhaps the most widespread and tangible problem affecting the marine environment today. A 2014 report by the UN Environment Program estimated plastic consumer goods causes $75 billion of environmental harm annually to natural ecosystems, including $13 billion specifically to marine ecosystems.2 After one use, 95 percent of plastic packaging material value ends up in landfills, as roadside litter or in our marine environments.
While plastics play a crucial role in modern life, plastic waste threatens our oceans’ health; food safety and quality; coastal tourism; and long-term human health. There is widespread acknowledgement, however, that quick fixes that address the symptoms are not enough; only a systemic shift that addresses the root cause of plastic waste recovery and management, implemented in coalitions by numerous actors along the entire value chain, will result in substantive change.
Recognizing the impacts of single use plastic packaging on marine ecosystems, the beauty and personal care industry is committed to working together to develop upstream and downstream solutions to address the issue, including:
- Accelerating and scaling the development of alternative materials;
- Developing innovative products designed for circular business models;
- Engaging consumers in thoughtful disposal behaviors/recycling; and
- Supporting collection infrastructure and the separation and sorting of plastic waste.
As part of their commitment to sustainability, and in an effort to address reliance on a single use model, several PCPC member companies, including Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, The Estée Lauder Companies and Unilever, have set ambitious, time-bound goals that all their plastic packaging will be recyclable, reusable, compostable, or refillable. Many brands are making recycling easier for consumers to bring their empty packaging back to the point of sale (POS), or return by mail, often incentivized with a reward. Brands are also increasing their use of recycled content, or using new material sources like paper that’s both recyclable and compostable, and can be made from recycled materials.
Every year, our oceans provide us with a wealth of goods and services, conservatively valued at $2.5 trillion, and play a fundamental role in supporting life on earth.3 In addition to industry’s actions, there are actions each of us can take. Most people are familiar with the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – to help reduce plastic waste and its impact on our planet. Here are some additional things you can do to protect our oceans:
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Energy Consumption
Reduce the effects of climate change on the ocean by leaving the car at home when you can and being conscious of your energy use at home and work.
Make Safe, Sustainable Seafood Choices
When shopping or dining out, help reduce the demand for over-exploited species by choosing seafood that is both healthful and sustainable.
Use Fewer Plastic Products
Carry a reusable water bottle, store food in non-disposable containers, bring your own reusable bag when shopping and recycle whenever possible. Avoid single use plastic like straws, bags and bottled water.
Help Take Care of the Beach
Whether you enjoy diving, surfing or relaxing on the beach, always clean up after yourself.
Travel the Ocean Responsibly
Practice responsible boating, kayaking and other recreational activities on the water.
Support Organizations Working to Protect the Ocean
Consider giving financial support or volunteering for hands-on work or advocacy with a conservation organization.