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Taking Action against the Rising Tide of Marine Plastic Pollution. A Case Study of the Surfrider Foundation.

  • Author(s): Lovison, Silvia
  • Advisor(s): Barandiaràn, Javiera
  • et al.
Abstract

This thesis analyzes the so-called “wicked problem” of plastic pollution, breaking it down into its main causes, actors, and challenges, while focusing on the role that NGOs, in particular, the Surfrider Foundation, have in fighting it. Currently, the plastic pollution tide is on the rise, and a relatively new culture centered on “disposable and throw-away items”, aka single-use plastics, seem to have taken over in our daily life. However, this thesis shows that there are many actions that different actors can take to limit the current plastic dependency and overconsumption and reduce the rates of plastics entering our oceans each year.

To better understand the role that the Surfrider Foundation has in fighting back against this plastic crisis, I interned for its Huntington Beach and Seal Beach (CA) chapter from September to December 2017. I had the opportunity to analyze the main mechanisms which drive the work of this non-profit organization, the Foundation’s main programs and initiatives in relation to ocean plastic pollution and the relationship that Surfrider has with other actors and stakeholders. According to my findings, the main influence that the Surfrider Foundation has in “contrasting” the expansion of plastic pollution lies in its educative role and in its efforts to raise awareness among communities on the issue, inspiring them to take direct action as individuals and further on, demanding governmental and business intervention as well. Moreover, often as part of wider partnerships and in coalition with other NGOs and activists, Surfrider also tries to affect local legislation, and ideally, state-wide and global policies, as well.

Indeed, the power of public ideas and public activism should not be underestimated. As demonstrated, education and public mobilization can lead to important environmentally-friendly legislative changes at the local and state-level, which together with a bigger movement and discourse around plastic pollution, can lead to important global achievements as well. Currently, we are witnessing this mechanism in action: strong global “momentum” around the issue has been created through the efforts and joint collaboration of many ENGOs and activists, including the Surfrider Foundation, leading to the interventions of other key actors, such as governments, consumers, and businesses. The hope is that through a meaningful, multilateral, and integrated fight we can substantially reduce plastic pollution.

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