The 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu Hawaii just ended. We thank the United Nations Environment Programme for organizing the event, and for inviting PPC to represent thousands of people, and hundreds of organizations on four continents, who view plastic pollution as a growing and urgent problem for the ocean.

During five days of conference sessions, we noticed with growing concern the notable omission of the word “plastic” and “plastic pollution” from all conference materials.

More than half of the sessions were dedicated to topics directly related to plastic pollution – yet the words were absent from the official vocabulary of any organizer, any sponsor.  On numerous occasions we brought up this issue, and our comments were met with support and approval from many of the attendees.

We brought up the issue of plastic during the working sessions on the Honolulu Commitment – the document that summarizes the basic agreement about concerns and future action between the attendees at the conference. After hours of deliberation, and with the support of Algalita and artist Pam Longobardi, we were able to add prominent text about the growing concern about plastic as a component of marine debris; highlighted the issue of endocrine disruptors; and called for prevention, and extended producer responsibility as key initiatives to end plastic pollution.

The Honolulu Commitment will be available soon for public review and comments, and we will share it with you.

We brought up the issue of plastic in Daniella’s plenary session talk. She clearly outlined our concern about hiding the urgency of the issue behind words that deliberately mask the greatest problem  – plastic, and plastic pollution.

We brought up the issue of plastic during the sessions where Daniella and Dianna presented.

Yet despite all positive comments we received from the attendees, the final wrap-up of the conference did not include one single reference to the word plastic, or plastic pollution. Not surprising to find out that the wrap-up was organized and presented by a consultant paid by the American Chemistry Council!

How disappointing that UNEP would allow such an obvious conflict of interest!

A high point of the wrap-up event was the Kokua Foundation and their announcement of “Plastic Free Schools”, followed by Jack Johnson, who grabbed the hearts of everyone with his song that encouraged us to end the single-use plastic habit.

The conference offered a sobering view of what lies ahead: an industry that refuses to see themselves as a contributor to this major problem; international policy-makers who are careful not to offend any stakeholder; and an ocean drowning in plastic for which nobody feels responsible. A true tragedy of the commons.

Yet, we remain positive and strong. Our voices are heard. We are making a difference!

Please consider supporting us and this important work by making a donation to Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Daniella Russo and Dianna Cohen