Ecocity Insights

Connecting Ocean Plastics to Cities: Exploring Responsible Resources/Materials

August 28, 2018. Bali, Indonesia. Underwater ocean with plastic — Stock Editorial Photography
Written by Jennie Moore

The International Ecocity Standards identify Responsible Resources/Materials as a bio-geophysical condition, stating that non-food and non-energy renewable and non-renewable resources are sourced, allocated, managed, and recycled responsibly and equitably, and without adversely affecting human health or the resilience of ecosystems. This standard aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 for Responsible Consumption Production.

Of growing concern around the world is the accumulation of plastic wastes in our oceans. Oceans receive 8 million tonnes of plastic annually. And, that amount is increasing with every decade (IPBES 2019; Jambeck et al. 2018).

Global cumulative production of plastic since 1950 equals 8.3 billion metric tons, with half of that being produced in the past 13 years. (Jambeck et al. 2018). An estimated 23 million tonnes of plastic waste is mismanaged annually, meaning it escapes to the environment instead of being disposed of in a sanitary landfill or repurposed or recycled/downcycled.

Marine plastic pollution has increased ten-fold since the 1980s (IPBES 2019), affecting 86% of marine turtles and 43% of marine birds and mammals. An estimated 650 – 700 species of marine animals are impacted by plastic waste (IBPES 2019; Jambeck et al. 2018)

Although fishing and aquaculture contribute substantially to ocean plastic waste, e.g., through discarded floats and nets, cities represent the main source of this waste. Primary indicators for ocean plastic waste include:

  • the amount of waste generated per capita,
  • the amount of waste that is plastic, and
  • the percentage of waste recovery for disposal. (Jambeck et al. 2018).

Many rapidly developing cities, particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa, are challenged by population growth that outpaces infrastructure development and waste management capacity. A growing middle class and increased modernization of consumable materials that favor plastic products compound the challenges associated with keeping plastic wastes out of receiving natural environments. For example, half of the annually produced ocean wastes (4.4 million tonnes) come from the African continent.

Curbing the amount of plastics entering the oceans in the form of waste requires a multitude of strategies. For example, in urban areas that lack sufficient sewerage, people can resort to defecating in plastic bags. These bags often find their way to rivers that ultimately port the waste to receiving waters and oceans. Many African countries have led with taxes or outright bans of certain plastic products, such as plastic bags. However, investments in sewer system upgrades and sanitary services are also needed. Community waste recovery programs that target plastics contribute to local economic development that generates incomes and secure livelihoods (Jambeck et al. 2018).

The challenges are ongoing to address the problem of ocean plastics, and cities, particularly ecocities, play an important part of the solution. To learn more about what you can do to help reduce ocean plastics check-out the Oceanic Society’s tips for “7 Ways to Reduce Ocean Plastic Today.”


Jambeck, Jenna; Britta Denise Hardestyb, Amy L. Brooksa, Tessa Friendc, Kristian Telekic,Joan Fabresd, Yannick Beaudoind, Abou Bambae, Julius Francisf, Anthony J. Ribbinkg, Tatjana Baletag, Hindrik Bouwmanh, Jonathan Knoxi, Chris Wilcoxb. 2018. Challenges and emerging solutions to the land-based plastic issue in Africa. Marine Policy, 96: 256-263.

IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). 2019. Summary for Policymakers of the IPES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Diaz, J. Settele, E.S. Brondisio, H.T. Ngo, M. Gueze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S.H.M. Butchart, K.M.A. Chan, L.A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S.M. Subramanian, G.F. Mddgley, P. Miloslavish, Z. Molnar, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Rassaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chodhury, Y.J. Shin, I.J. Visseren-Hamakers, K.J. Willis, and C.N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Gernamny.


About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.