Let’s Keep It Blue Together

Jun 12, 2018 10:00 AM ET

CSR Now!

Last Friday was International Ocean Day -- a day that we celebrate the 71 percent of our planet that is covered with water. But, increasingly that water is filled with plastic, and it’s slowly killing us.

Consider these facts:

  • 80 percent of all pollution in the ocean comes from people on land.
  • 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean per year, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism.
  • Plastic pollution costs the lives of 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year.
  • Plastic causes $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems each year.

Recently, The New York Times reported on a pilot whale that washed ashore in Thailand with over 18 pounds of black plastic bags in its stomach. Veterinarians tried to save its life, but to no avail. Its death became somewhat of a cause celebre on social media; but, this kind of thing happens all the time.

According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Science Advances, of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away. If the current production and waste management trends continue, about 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills, oceans and the natural environment by 2050.

A separate study found that the six countries producing the most “mismanaged plastic waste” are in the Asia-Pacific region. China topped the list, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This study also found that the 8 million metric tons of plastic waste that makes its way to our oceans each year is the equivalent of five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.

What can be done to combat this global scourge?

In December, 193 countries signed a United Nations resolution to monitor plastics disposal in the oceans and 39 countries committed to reducing the quantity of plastics going into the sea. In January, the European Union proposed a Europe-wide strategy on single use plastics, which would require that they be fully recyclable by 2030. And, in the United States, California and dozens of municipalities have banned or imposed fees on plastic bags.

Last week, American Express announced a partnership with Parley, an organization focused on ending marine plastic pollution, to raise awareness of the issue with our employees, Card Members and business partners. As part of this collaboration, American Express is committing to reduce the use of single-use plastics in our operations globally, and to issue the first-ever American Express Card manufactured from recovered plastic pollution found in the oceans and on the coasts.

More specifically, American Express will:

  • Pursue a strategy to reduce the use of virgin plastic in Card products.
  • Phase out single use plastic straws and coffee stirrers for all of its major offices and Centurion airport lounges globally within 30 days.
  • Set a comprehensive waste reduction strategy that reduces single use plastics and increases recycling rates in its operations globally by the end of the year.
  • Pursue zero waste certification for our New York headquarters by 2025.
  • Engage employees in company-sponsored coastal and river clean-ups.

Other steps that American Express has taken to become more environmentally sustainable include:

  • Carbon emissions associated with our business operations have been reduced by 50 percent compared to 2011.
  • All electricity powering our U.S. data centers and headquarters is from renewable energy.
  • Nearly 50 percent of our global real estate footprint is green building certified.
  • 100 percent of our employee business travel will be carbon neutral by the end of this year.

Together, we can help reduce the amount of plastic that finds its way into our oceans, and create a better and cleaner environment for ourselves and our children. Let’s keep it blue.

If you have a comment or question, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues.