A new report to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) shows marine debris cost countries in the region $15.7 billion in 2015.
The Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) at the University of Wollongong produced the report for APEC’s Oceans and Fisheries Working Group, funded by the US Department of State.
“While many APEC countries have enjoyed strong economic growth over the past three decades, an unfortunate by-product has been an increase in marine debris along the coastlines and in the seas of the Asia-Pacific region,” a University of Wollongong statement reads.
The report found that between 2009 and 2015, the estimated economic cost of debris per annum rose eight-fold, from $1.83 billion to $15.7 billion.
“This includes the costs to industries including fisheries and aquaculture, shipping and transport and tourism, but does not include money spent on cleaning up the debris or the costs to the environment, which are unknown,” the statement reads.
The report calculated that marine debris cost the region’s tourism industry $9.29 billion, shipping and transport $4.26 billion and fishing and aquaculture $2.13 billion.
“At current estimated leakage rates of debris into the oceans, the projected value of damage to these industries to 2050 is $313 billion,” the statement reads.
“If the volume of marine debris entering the ocean accelerates (and global plastic production is predicted to triple by 2050), then this number would increase.”
ANCORS marine economist Alistair McIlgorm, who led the research, said the report showed “business as usual is not acceptable.”
“The cost of marine debris – to individuals, to communities and to national economies – is significant and is growing,” he explained.
“It is a $200 billion hit to the economies of the 21 APEC countries from now to 2050, so we can’t sit back and do nothing.”
The report counts the indirect costs as well as the direct costs of marine debris.
“You wouldn’t believe how many outboards all over the APEC region run over fishing monofilament and plastic, which causes all sorts of damage,” Prof McIlgorm said.
“The cost of that damage is not only the fact you’ve got to go and get the motor seals fixed, but also that you’re not actually doing what you want to do – it’s the cost of opportunities forgone as well.”
In addition to laying out the size of the problem, the report proposes a range of policy and legislative responses including implementing technical litter traps, national waste strategies and action plans and adopting extended producer responsibility schemes with consumer involvement.
Furthermore, the report suggests introducing regulations to reduce waste, applying economic instruments to promote recycling and economic incentives to engage the private sector.
“Several Asian economies have been identified as having the highest levels of marine debris. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the 30-year “economic miracle” that has lifted a billion people out of poverty,” Prof McIlgorm said.
“The good news is, if you look at the costs and benefits of marine debris, many of the actions we can take have reasonably low cost to deliver a high benefit.
“For example, there are a lot of major urban marine debris hot spots, particularly in the Southeast Asian area, where targeted interventions really would make sense.”
The report recommends bringing governments together with the private sector and communities to address the challenge.
According to Prof McIlgorm, all sectors of the community can be involved in the solution.
“Producers can improve product design and labelling to assist the sorting of waste for economically viable recycling. Consumers can use product choice and be part of pay and recovery schemes to reduce waste through recycling,” he said.
“A little bit of effort and awareness can go a long way.”