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Plastic Action Working Group


Marine Litter and Microplastics

>> Please find here: UNEP MGCY Discussion paper on 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. 


The MGCY is firmly convinced that a better future is possible and for that purpose, we want more fish than plastics in our oceans. To achieve this reality, we strongly reiterate that  a more circular economy is our best shot at addressing the global problem of marine litter and microplastics. Furthermore, we are firmly convinced that in order to collaboratively tackle marine pollution, negotiations must be inspired by local, national, and regional advancements. UNEA-5 must also facilitate diverse States’ ambitions in order to achieve a globally effective agreement (UNEP, 2018). The MGCY refuses empty promises and firmly expects the UNEA-5 sessions to result in concrete, bold and appropriate outcomes. 

The MGCY therefore presents essential detailed points of actions to jointly undertake for all governmental and non governmental actors.To sum up these key commitments further elaborated in our full position paper, we, as young people from all parts of the globe, request the governments to improve their strategies to tackle marine litter and microplastics by:

1. Better monitoring and reporting 

2. Ensuring the plastic pollution prevention and the promotion of a safe circular economy

3. Implementing sound and circular waste management strategies 


To achieve this triptic, the MGCY is providing the governments with a range of concrete guidelines and suggestions in the position paper, shaped by a whole lifecycle, circular and preventive approach of the plastic crisis. As a part of the the UNEP Major Group for Children and Youth which is the UN Environment Assembly mandated official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth to contribute to and engage in intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UNEP and relevant environmental governance and conservation processes in the broader UN system, we have provided a list of possible 10 ways governments can make a difference, starting today. 

You may view the documents below:


To improve our action and work on science based knowledge, we have organized in the last month some capacity building webinars.

​Marine litter and microplastics prevention - Inform, act, connect - Jane Patton

Youth Capacity building 09/10/2020 - UNEP MGCY Marine Litter and Microplastic WG  - Domenico Vito, Carol Maione, Gabriela Fernandez, Suzanne Astic, Amadi Mgbenihu

ROAD TO UNEA-5 - Suzanne Astic​​

YEA Day 4  - IDENTIFYING MICROPLASTICS: A threat to species survival - Carol Maione

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