In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Susan Ruffo, executive director of The Circulate Initiative, which aims to incubate, measure, and amplify inclusive solutions that stop plastic waste from flowing into the ocean.
It provides entrepreneurs, policymakers, and investors with the knowledge and skills they need to incentivize, create, support and operate waste-reducing circular economies.
We spoke with Susan about the circular economy, the effects of COVID-19 on the plastics problem, innovation abroad, and more!
Here’s a glimpse into what we discussed:
Waste360: Can you talk about the Urban Ocean program and how your group is working with cities to improve their waste management practices?
Ruffo: Urban Ocean is a new program that The Circulate Initiative, Ocean Conservancy, and the Global Resilient Cities Network has just launched with five cities primarily in South- and Southeast Asia but also in Latin America. Our goal is to get all of our partners working together on the issue of ocean plastics but also on related issues touching on waste management, circularity, public health, and other sustainability and economic issues. Our theory is that none of us can do any of these things alone, but we can advance all of our priorities if we’re working together.
Waste360: How key are cities in addressing the marine plastic waste problem?
Ruffo: To me they’re absolutely key. I take inspiration from the leadership cities have shown on the climate issue. If you look at cities around the world and see what they are doing on reducing emissions, changing transportation, changing buildings, and really leading the discussion on what can be done on climate… I think cities can do the same on ocean plastics. They have a lot of the authority to do what needs to be done in thinking about waste management and recycling; they also have direct access to their citizens and can do public awareness campaigns and education; and they can pass regulations and incentives that really can help move things forward. So I think they’re an absolutely key actor that hasn’t been engaged as much as they should be on the ocean plastic issue—so we’re trying to change that.
Waste360: You have said that part of the problem is that ocean waste is not a priority concern for developing nations. How do we make it more of a priority for these governments?
Ruffo: It’s just a hard issue to put at the top of the agenda when these governments are dealing with things like poverty, feeding people, public health. But the key is that it’s not a standalone issue. Ocean plastic is not just about the ocean—and as soon as we start thinking of it in that way, it becomes much more interesting to city governments. I wouldn’t expect any mayor to tell me that his or her top priority was keeping plastic out of the ocean. But I’d be really surprised if a mayor said they weren’t interested in public sanitation, picking up trash, the jobs they could create, safety and dignified work. So when you start thinking of it as a broader issue, it comes much higher up on a priority list.
Waste360: Can you give us an overview of your panel at the recent Virtual Ocean Dialogues hosted by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action?
Ruffo: We had a great panel bringing together representatives from around the world and across sectors. For me the most interesting thing was how the panelists talked about how they can start working with each other. For instance, there was a whole discussion about how city policies could recognize workers in the informal sector and help them be more efficient while also improving their livelihood.