Researchers propose Global Plastic Pollution Observation System


On May 24, 2021, a group of researchers from over ten organizations around the world published a proposal in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology to create a Global Plastic Pollution Observation System (GPOS). The GPOS would create a standardized system to collect data on the extent of plastic pollution in atmospheric, terrestrial, and aquatic ecosystems and make that data available for evidence-based policymaking. Because most plastic pollution comes from land, the authors propose taking an “upstream-to-downstream” approach to measure not only where plastic pollution is found, and how much there is, but also where the pollution is generated and how it travels. Many local and global organizations already assess plastic pollution in one form or another, so the GPOS aims to build partnerships with stakeholders on multiple scales to co-create a cost-effective system useful to a diverse array of policy and research needs.

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous, and macro- and microplastic pieces have been measured in ecosystems and organisms across the globe (FPF reported). Currently, however, plastic pollution research is concentrated in certain regions and ecosystems and measured at many different scales which makes it difficult to combine data or coordinate policymaking. The GPOS, according to the authors, “builds on scientific advances and strives to connect and coordinate research across the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and anthroposphere. Its aim is to support evidence-based policymaking and governance in the sectors that cause, and that are affected by, plastic pollution (e.g., food production).”

Specifically, the authors “envision that GPOS will be an umbrella for existing programs and initiatives” and highlight the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program’s Litter and Microplastics Expert Group, which coordinates monitoring of microplastics and litter across the Arctic, as one potential partner. And by incorporating citizen science initiatives, GPOS “could help to identify plastic pollution sources and hotspots” that may otherwise be missed.

By working within the framework of the Basel Convention’s newly established global plastic waste partnership, supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and contributing to other global projects, the authors hope that creating the GPOS can “facilitate bridging the gap between the science and policy realms of global plastic pollution.”

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Food Packaging Forum, 4 June 2021