Urban Ocean

A first-of-its-kind initiative empowering cities to reduce plastic waste, develop a circular economy and build cleaner, healthier, and more resilient communities

About the Initiative

Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year, most from mismanaged waste streams on land. Larger cities are a major source, particularly in developing economies where economic growth has outpaced infrastructure development; but they are also a major driver of solutions.

Photo: Flickr / Jopet Sy

Ocean Conservancy’s two seminal reports, Stemming the Tide and The Next Wave, showed that one of the main ways to reduce the flow of ocean plastic is to improve waste collection and recycling systems in key geographies. At the same time, analysis by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation revealed that to reach a circular economy, 50% of plastic packaging will have to be recycled, which requires basic waste collection and management infrastructure.

To address this issue, we must implement policies that strengthen basic waste collection, increase the demand for recycled goods, attract private funding and investment, and increase public education and participation.

Cities: Going from Source to Solution on Ocean Plastic

With over half of the world’s population now living in cities, cities will be critical in driving solutions to the ocean plastic crisis.

Cities generally have a leading role in building and running water, sanitation and waste management systems, so they are a natural partner to develop solutions in this area. Cities are also key actors in other areas critical for solving the marine plastic waste problem, including citizen education and awareness.

At the same time, cities have interconnected policy priorities that lead them to prioritize investments in waste management, including public health, economic growth, and job creation. A multipronged approach that embeds the reduction of marine plastic waste into other core city priorities, with a range of co-benefits or “resilience dividends,” offers the best chance of sustainable solutions.

Working with a Range of Partners on Solutions

Many cities are taking action, but generally in isolation. Ocean Conservancy, 100 Resilient Cities, Circulate Capital, SecondMuse and the Trash Free Seas Alliance® will bring together civil society actors, leading academics, financial institutions, and private sector leaders to develop, share and scale solutions to the ocean plastic problem that cut across silos and achieve multiple benefits. The initiative will bring new actors to the table, including:

  • Global companies looking to reduce marine plastic waste across their supply chains that can implement and scale their programs across different localities;
  • Waste management and city sustainability experts focused on stopping leakage who can bring their expertise to bear to improve recycling and help build a circular economy;
  • Financial partners that can tap into the network to incubate, invest in, and scale innovative solutions; and
  • Educators and others seeking to reduce waste and improve consumer involvement who can work through the platform to engage citizens and advocates in multiple cities simultaneously.

The platform will allow for faster and more effective development and deployment of solutions, so that policies or systems that work in Seattle or Semarang or Santiago can be shared and adapted quickly elsewhere.

Photo: Mat Szwajkos / Aurora Photos

Programming and Approach

Specific programming will include three primary areas of action:

  1. Partnership engagement to build appropriate public-private partnerships between cities, businesses, and financing organizations;
  2. Education, to encourage waste reduction and consumer recycling; and
  3. Peer network and exchange, including sharing of best practices and development of model policies.

To demonstrate tangible solutions and progress, Urban Ocean will start with a maximum of 10 pilot cities, focusing on those that are leaders in the fight against river and ocean plastic and/or in geographies with high leakage rates, particularly in Asia and Latin America. We will bring in key partners and subject matter experts as appropriate for each city. The program will then be scaled up, adding new elements and learning from the original sites