Ben Jack started his career working in marine conservation – cleaning up reefs and mangroves, improving local biodiversity, and supporting communities to protect their coastlines.
But Ben soon realised he was fighting a losing battle:
“We would clean the beach one day, and the next tide would bring in a new wave of plastic waste. Clean-up projects are important, but they’re not the solution.”
Ben realised that to really turn the tide on plastic pollution, he needed to look at the bigger picture. Today, he is Chief Strategy Officer at Common Seas – an organisation that takes a holistic systems change approach to tackling plastic waste.
Above: An example of the plight of plastic pollution, seen on Thilafushi Island in the Maldives. Photo by Julia Neeson.
Understanding the problem
In 2020, Common Seas contributed to a landmark report on plastic pollution called ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’. The report revealed both the scale of the plastic crisis, and how seriously we’re failing to address it.
Even if every government in the world met their commitments on tackling plastic pollution, it would only reduce the plastic leaking into the ocean by 7%. What’s more, a different study (which Ben also contributed to) revealed that 30% of the world’s most plastic-polluting nations lack essential policy targeting plastic pollution.
Common Seas wanted to find out why this was happening: where did this lack of ambition come from? Through a project with the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, Ben and the rest of his strategy team at Common Seas spoke to 25 governments about plastic waste.
The findings were clear:
“We learned that these countries understood the scale of the problem and wanted to do something about it – but they lacked the tools, resources and technical capacity to make any headway. Once we understood that, we knew how to help.”
Plastic Drawdown: the plastic reporting tool for governments
Common Seas built Plastic Drawdown to support decision-makers to set baselines, design policy and take action on plastic. The tool was developed with Oxford University and Eunomia, and prototyped in Indonesia, Greece and UK. Its methodology has also been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The Government of the Maldives used Plastic Drawdown to announce its ambitious National Plastic Phase-Out Strategy. Since then, bans on single-use plastics and further policy design have begun, and Common Seas has raised finance to develop water refill and filtration solutions.
Above: A workshop at Soneva Fushi resort in the Maldives. Photo by Alicia Warner.
Ben can see an exciting moment ahead:
“175 governments across the UN have just committed to take action on plastic through a new Global Treaty for Plastic Pollution. This is super exciting for Plastic Drawdown, because it’s exactly the right tool to help all these governments build momentum and establish the right political frameworks to make and deliver more ambitious commitments.”
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