A risk framework for tackling marine debris
Understanding plastic pollution from a systems perspective requires a way of conceptualizing sources, distribution and dynamics in the environment; identifying or quantifying impacts on wildlife, humans and other assets; and identifying and evaluating potential management responses. The uncertainties in our knowledge and the difficulty in resolving them satisfactorily can be challenging, given that we are confined to working with largely observational data because experiments at scale are difficult or impossible. To advance this area of research, we suggest applying a conceptual framework that allows us to break the components into smaller parts that can integrate uncertainty and connect variables of interest to outcomes of interest. We identify four specific questions inherent to a risk framework: the first three focus on risk analysis, and the fourth on risk management or mitigation. We present examples that are both data rich and data poor and discuss the value of integrating a systems perspective, connecting sources and drivers to dynamics and distribution to impacts and management responses. We also propose applying risk analysis to the plastics pollution issue as we acknowledge and embrace uncertainty, noting the precautionary principle and its application to risk management.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Microplastics in the environment