Marine Litter and Microplastics


Many environmental challenges face the world today including marine litter and microplastic. Three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are related to the marine litter problem: SDG 12 which is sustainable production and consumption, SDG 14 that is related to life below water, and SDG 13 that is linked to climate action.  This is proof that marine litter has a significant negative impact on the environment and people's life.

UN Environment identified marine litter as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. This problem is not site-specific, but it is a worldwide concern where seas and oceans are the final destinations of these materials. 

The world looks at marine litter as a result of the dysfunction in the waste management process. Two sources are behind this issue: land-based sources and marine-based sources. For instance, many landfills are located directly on the coast or near the rivers. However, several drivers are behind this problem and they are all related directly to human behaviour such as unsustainable production and consumption patterns with poor waste management. For example, the marine environment receives more than 8 million tonnes of plastic litter each year which is a significant problem due to the characteristics of plastic.

These facts result in huge pressure on the environment which lead to socioeconomic impacts in marine-based sectors. These threats lead to the degradation of marine and coastal habitats and ecosystems. 

International Resolutions Tackling Marine Litter and Microplastics

Although marine litter is a tangible issue, the response to this issue is still weak with the lack of adequate legal and policy frameworks internationally, regionally, and nationally. However, several efforts have been made to tackle this problem. Internationally, two resolutions on marine litter were adopted in the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). The Regional Seas programme in UNEA are working on developing laws to enhance the management of the source to sea process by encouraging governments around the world to establish plastic reduction policies. 

Furthermore, both of the Honolulu Commitment and the Honolulu Strategy are also parts of these efforts. The importance of the Honolulu Strategy comes from the fact that it is a global collaborative framework that can be used as a planning tool for developing marine projects and initiatives. It can also be used as a monitoring tool to measure progress in these projects.

The Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) is a part of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) effort to tackle the issue of marine litter internationally. Combining different stakeholders to obtain realistic solutions to reducing and managing marine litter is the main role of this partnership.

The Clean Seas Campaign is a great example of international campaigns by UNEP to eliminate key sources of marine litter by 2022.

UNEP-MGCY is working on tackling marine litter and microplastics issues through many activities including raising awareness and encouraging youth engagement. A webinar was held on 3rd April 2020 under the title “Using International Law to Face Global Plastics Crisis”. Jane Patton, who is a senior campaigner in the Center for International Environmental Law, addressed the plastic waste topic and linked it to human rights. Also, she mentioned the strengths and weaknesses of the policy of different international conventions and organizations including Basel Convention, Stockholm Convention, IMO, and UNEA. Finally, Jane encouraged youth engagement in tackling the plastic waste issue by proposing their own initiatives on the local level and she offered all the help that is needed. 

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