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A pile of plastic bottle caps on the beach
Lisbon, Portugal

The Average Brazilian Pollutes the Ocean with 16 Kg of Plastic Each Year

Every Brazilian is responsible for polluting the ocean with 16 kg of plastic a year, according to the Blue Keepers, linked to the UN Global Compact. A third of the material consumed in the country and not reused ends up in rivers and seas, finds their study.

An estimated 150 million tons of plastic is circulating in the ocean. This is equivalent to a rubbish truck full of plastic being thrown into the sea every minute. The other problem is that with wave action, large plastics become micro-plastics, which is even more complicated to remove. There is a lot of plastic already found in fish. In a few years, the researchers estimate, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Blue Keepers' target is to reduce 30% of plastic waste going into the country's seas by 2030. The ten items most commonly found on beaches will be redesigned or will enter the circular economy. The intention is to reach one hundred cities with preventive solutions to the problem.

The first point, for now, is to diagnose the problem and then understand the path that plastic pollution takes until it enters the ocean. Rains, winds, topography, soil use and the presence of rivers and dams are factors that influence the probability of the plastic reaching the ocean, according to the modelling done by the researchers.

The study shows that 67% of plastic waste with a propensity to contaminate the environment are in watersheds "with greater risk of entering the ocean," says the text.

The study was released in Lisbon at the UN Ocean Conference, which took place at the end of June. The work classified ten basins with the highest risk of polluting the sea, with large river mouths. The La Plata River, near Buenos Aires, is the first most contaminating, followed by the Guanabara Bay in the state of Rio de Janeiro, then in order, the Amazon, the San Francisco River and the Tocantins.

The biggest challenge of the study was having to deal with the lack of data. "A municipality interested in reducing its generation of plastic pollution needs to know where the gaps are in order to act on the problem," the researchers' notes state.

"All roads lead to the sea, including waste from the most distant areas of the Brazilian territory. Poor waste management, low recycling and reuse rates, excessive consumption, precarious housing without sanitation and waste collection are territorial and behavioral causes of chronic ocean pollution," the study says.

Worldwide, 140 companies have joined a manifesto to end plastic pollution. At the Environment Conference in Nairobi in March, delegates from 175 countries agreed that it is necessary to create an international agreement by 2024 to end plastic pollution.

The research was conducted between July and April this year. It involved 12 researchers coordinated by Alexander Turra, professor at the Oceanographic Institute and coordinator of the UNESCO chair for ocean sustainability.

The project's intention is to identify the sources of plastic in ten Brazilian cities and seek solutions between the public and private sectors. Rio de Janeiro will be the first and there the actions will start in the second half of the year.

Other municipalities that will have priority actions to combat the problem in the coming months will be Manaus, Belém, São Luís, Fortaleza and Natal, João Pessoa, Recife and Maceió, Aracaju, Salvador and Vitória, Greater Rio, São Paulo, Santos and Praia Grande and Porto Alegre.

Blue Keepers is a national initiative that seeks to mobilize resources and technological innovation to combat plastic pollution in watersheds and oceans, with the involvement of companies, governments and civil society.

"We are in the decade of the oceans and Brazil must take more action. Companies are part of the problem and should be part of the solution. We have a long way to go, but the diagnosis brought by the study conducted by Blue Keepers and the Oceanographic Institute of USP shows what we need to do immediately, which is to create solutions not only in coastal areas of Brazil," says Carlo Pereira, CEO of the UN Global Compact in Brazil, in the text sent to the press.

The UN Global Compact brings together more than 16,000 companies in 164 countries. The network in Brazil is the third largest in the world, with over 1,500 members.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference Fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch). It was first published in Portuguese in Valor Economico on June 30, 2022. It has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: It is estimated today that there is 150 million tons of plastic circulating in the ocean. / Credit: Mark Harpur via Unsplash.