Ocean Plastics and Marine Debris

Ocean plastic and marine litter is a material issue for Thai Union. Although Thai Union has been committed to working with our communities to reduce waste for a number of years, in 2017 we elevated ocean plastic and marine litter to become a significant material issue due to stakeholder concern and developing research. In particular, our concerns are for the health and resilience of the oceans and the health of people who rely on oceans for food and livelihoods.

As a user of primarily recyclable packaging, in the form of steel and aluminum cans and paper outer cardboard, Thai Union assessed its greatest impact is through supporting work to reduce marine litter and abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). Ensuring product packaging is designed for the environment and a circular economy is also a key focus, as well as engaging our staff and communities on waste minimization and appropriate disposal of waste.

Abandoned, Lost and Discarded Fishing Gear

Every year approximately 8 million tons of plastic enter into the ocean, most of it urban waste, particularly plastic litter and microplastics. Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear accounts for 70 percent of macro plastics in the ocean by weight.

It crops up on beaches, tangles on coral reefs, threatens navigation and is a significant cause of loss of other fishing gear in use. It has obvious impacts on global food security and the seafood supply chain by negatively affecting global fish stock levels, as well as an impact on the livelihoods of coastal communities. In this way, the issue of ocean plastic and marine litter impacts all three of the SDGs we have chosen to focus on—Zero Hunger, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Life Below Water—and is therefore a material issue not only to Thai Union’s stakeholders but also to the company.

The amount of ALDFG entering the oceans and the impact that it has on habitats needs to be addressed in different ways:

  1. At the end of life;
  2. By deploying non-entangling but biodegradable FADs;
  3. Preventing the destruction of habitats caused by lost gear;
  4. Removing abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear from the environment.

Thai Union aims to ensure it addresses the issue of abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, identifying that projects will initially be focused on fish aggregation devices (FADs).

Click here to read more about how the company is working on various aspects of projects to address ALDFG.

Joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

Thai Union joined forces with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) in 2018 and will work closely with GGGI to actively promote solutions for reducing this waste and the growing problem of ALDFG worldwide.

The GGGI is an alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale. The GGGI’s strength lies in the diversity of its participants including the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Every participant has a critical role to play to mitigate ghost gear locally, regionally and globally. Thai Union’s participation in the GGGI reflects its commitment to combat marine plastic pollution, in line with SeaChange®.

Sustainable Packaging

Packaging is an important component of any product and contributes significantly to a company’s overall environmental impact. Thai Union is reducing its environmental footprint by developing and implementing sustainable packaging initiatives. We have also committed to ensuring 100 percent of our branded packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Click here to read more about Thai Union’s responsible operations efforts.

Advocacy

As a global sustainability leader, Thai Union embraces its responsibility to promote this issue among its employees around the world and within the communities where we operate. At Thai Union, we want to contribute to broader societal change in areas where we can have direct influence.

Across the world, we are strong advocates for following a sustainable path. This has included:

Activities

Garbage Bank

Thai Union established its Garbage Bank program in 2014 to promote environmental awareness, encourage staff involvement in an environmental initiative and raise funds to support local communities. The program aims to improve the awareness and ability of staff to identify waste, both at the workplace and at home; reduce plastic waste in the community; use income from the program to support social projects; and promote collaboration among supervisors, officers and staff in the facility. Through this program, the Garbage Bank generated 36,536 Thai Baht (approximately $1,200) by selling collected plastic waste, with the revenue supporting educational materials for the children of Thai Union workers.

Community Cleaning in Seychelles

More than 200 employees from IOT Seychelles volunteered and were deployed to various locations across the local community to engage in activities making a positive difference to the community’s environment and people. IOT Seychelles employees planted more than 2,000 trees to help restore degraded land in the national forest, removing debris, litter, dead wildlife and invasive plants.

Sea and Beach Cleaning in Vietnam

As a member of the Crab Council of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), volunteers from Yueh Chyang Canned Food Co., Ltd. (YCC Vietnam) supported a fishery improvement project at Ha Tien by helping release berried female crab. The program is expected to generate 4 million larval crabs in the sea. The team calculated that at least six percent of the crabs would survive and thrive, producing 24 tons of raw material during the next six months, bringing about $200,000 worth of benefits to local fishermen. The YCC Vietnam team also helped with a beach clean-up.

ISSF turtle project

Thai Union has been working closely with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to help protect sea turtles, which are often at risk of becoming bycatch due to particular fishing practices. With the backing of Thai Union, the ISSF devotes substantial support for sea turtle research and educational projects around the world, working with on-the-ground experts to ensure the greatest impact. The ISSF is supporting more than 10 sea turtle conservation projects globally, stretching from Brazil to Tanzania and Peru to Oman.

The True Cost of Ocean Pollution

Like her ocean dwelling relatives, Fiona the leatherback turtle has been traveling great distances. She’s on a mission to raise awareness of the deadly issue of ghost gear, which is ruining the lives of thousands of marine animals.

But Fiona is not your usual leatherback turtle – she’s been made entirely from salvaged ghost gear – lost, discarded or otherwise abandoned fishing equipment – by artist Katrina Slack from Cornwall, UK.

Many people are aware of the danger that our plastic addiction poses to marine life, not many people know of the threat of ghost gear. So, to collect the material for Fiona, and other ghost gear sculptures, World Animal Protection teamed up with Surfers Against Sewage and over one weekend in 2015, 3,000 volunteers removed 150 kilometres of ghost gear from 123 beaches.

 

While the material used to make Fiona was collected in England, its origins, much like the ghost gear issue and leatherback turtles themselves, is truly international.

The Western Pacific population of leatherbacks has decreased 80 percent in just the last three generations and is now listed as critically endangered. As well as threats on the beaches they use as breeding grounds, a huge hazard to these gentle creatures comes from plastic and ghost fishing gear.

Ghost gear is wreaking havoc beneath the waves, killing more than 136,000 large whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and turtles, including leatherbacks.

Since her creation, Fiona has been on a mission to spread the word about ghost gear, and its devastating toll on leatherback turtles and other marine life. Her migration has taken her from the World Animal Protection offices in London, all the way to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in California, with stops at London’s Natural History Museum, local events and a DEFRA meeting with heads of commonwealth nations, along the way.

We hope Fiona’s message reaches enough people, before the world loses this magnificent ocean giant.