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    China Launches Three-Year Campaign Against Ocean Litter

    The initiative aims to significantly clear 65 bay areas by 2025 and establish regular clean-ups by 2027.

    China has launched a three-year campaign to combat ocean litter across its coastal regions, elevating the issue to a high priority within its marine protection strategy.

    Announced by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, along with three other governmental bodies, the campaign aims to substantially clear the garbage cluttering the nation’s 65 bay areas by 2025, with ongoing, regular clean-ups established by 2027.

    The campaign also states that top environmental authorities will intensify their oversight during the implementation phase. It will also consider incorporating marine litter management into the accountability assessments for ecological and environmental protection goals.

    “In some marine areas, especially bays adjacent to coastal cities, marine litter is still one of the pollution issues that the public feel most directly and strongly about,” top environmental officials have said.

    The plan tasks local governments with establishing and implementing a comprehensive mitigation system to monitor, intercept, collect, salvage, transport, and process waste. It calls for a multi-faceted approach to not only reduce and clean up debris in various coastal areas but also to enhance measures that prevent inland waste from reaching the sea.

    In its 2023 annual marine environment report, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment reported that there are 3,719 pieces of garbage floating on the surface for every square kilometer of ocean.

    The United Nations estimates that each year, tens of millions of tons of plastics — the most prevalent type of marine waste — enter the oceans, a figure that could triple in the next 20 years without immediate action.

    Though considered a moderate issue compared to other parts of the world, policymakers in China have expressed urgency due to escalating urban and fishing activities. In recent years, local officials too have described severe conditions in their regions and difficulties in addressing marine waste.

    The issue gained widespread attention last year when a stranded pregnant sperm whale was discovered with substantial plastic waste in its body, which scientists identified as a significant cause of its death.

    In recent years, China has intensified its efforts to address ocean litter, particularly with its five-year marine environment protection scheme introduced in 2022 that prioritizes waste management. The updated Marine Environment Law, effective this year, mandates the creation of a waste prevention system and imposes stricter penalties for ocean pollution.

    In response, local governments have announced their own initiatives. For instance, in 2021, the southern tech hub of Shenzhen became the first city in the country to regularly clean up floating ocean garbage in its coastal areas. More recently, Ningde in southeastern China initiated a campaign to use more environmentally-friendly fishing rafts in its villages.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: A woman collecting marine litter in Quanzhou, Fujian province, 2018. VCG)