U.S. invests in cleaning up plastic in oceans

By Lenore T. Adkins
Share America

Wayward plastic waste has been accumulating in the world’s oceans for years, and it is increasingly harming local industries that rely on oceans and coastal waters — especially tourism and aquaculture.

Supporting economic vitality is one reason the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) launched its Ocean Plastics Initiative. By backing specific projects, the initiative will reduce plastic discharged into oceans and waterways and help remove existing debris.

Face mask and plastic glove among other debris sitting on seabed (© Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)
Face masks and plastic debris litter the bottom of the Red Sea in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. (© Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

The DFC aims to catalyze $2.5 billion in investment for infrastructure projects that will reduce the discharge of plastic waste and marine debris into oceans in developing countries. The investment would support these goals:

  • Converting plastic waste to energy.
  • Recycling plastics.
  • Promoting proper disposal of plastics.
  • Cleaning up waste from the ocean.
  • Supporting the development of products made from nonplastic materials.

Right now, around 150 million metric tons of plastic pollute the world’s oceans, an amount that grows by 11 million metric tons every year. (For reference, 10 million metric tons is roughly equivalent in weight to 100 aircraft carriers.)

This pollution harms economies and people’s livelihoods. According to a 2020 report from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, damage from marine debris to fisheries and aquaculture, marine transport, shipbuilding and marine tourism cost APEC economies $11.2 billion in one recent year alone.

Sources of the problem

Most ocean plastic waste comes from land-based sources, especially rapidly urbanizing areas in the developing world where waste management systems struggle to keep up with increased consumption, which generates increased trash.

Countries that are sources of plastic pollution include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt and Nigeria. (According to its own reporting, the People’s Republic of China is also a large polluter, but DFC does not support investments there.)


In attracting support for plastic cleanup, the DFC will weight proposals that boost trade between the U.S. and Africa (in part through the U.S. government’s Prosper Africa initiative), support women (in part through the 2X Women’s Initiative) or boost the goals of the Indo-Pacific initiative.

Man carrying two buckets on beach covered in litter (© Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
A man carries fish on a beach covered with plastic waste April 18, 2018, in Manila, Philippines. (© Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

The Ocean Plastics Initiative seeks to leverage economic benefits while bringing cleaner waterways and coastal areas to communities.

“DFC’s Ocean Plastics Initiative seeks to catalyze private investment to address an urgent need to clean up and preserve our oceans and waterways,” Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler said in a statement. These projects will “support emerging economies, promoting economic growth and development,” he added.