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Marine Litter

Vital Graphics

Within the instruments with global and regional scope

there are conventions, protocols and agreements

which are transposed to similar legal instruments at

the regional and national level respectively. In addition,

there are instruments which provide guidance and

encourage regional bodies and countries to follow

certain proposed actions and cooperate on marine litter

issues (Chen, 2015).

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN

General Assembly Resolution 70/1) adopted in September

2015 provides an overarching framework to place other

international, regional, national and local initiatives in

context. Four out of the 17 SDGs (6, 11, 12 and 14) have

associated targets particularly relevant to marine plastic

pollution. These targets focus on untreated wastewater

(6.3), municipal and other waste management (11.6),

environmentally sound management of chemicals and

all wastes throughout their life cycle (12.4), and waste

generation reduction through prevention, reduction,

recycling and reuse (12.5). Others include prevention

and reduction of marine pollution, in particular from

land-based activities, including marine debris (14.1),

sustainable management and protection of marine and

coastal ecosystems and action for their restoration (14.2),

and conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their

resources through the United Nations Convention on the

Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (14.c) (UNEP, 2016a).

Also focusing on sustainable development but

specifically aimed at Small Island Developing States

(SIDS), the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action

(SAMOA) Pathway was adopted in September 2014, and

provides an overarching framework for initiatives. Article

58 on oceans and seas and article 71 on management

of chemicals and waste, including hazardous waste,

make specific reference to addressing marine debris

and strengthening mechanisms for waste management

including marine plastic litter.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

(UNCLOS), in force since 1994 with 167 parties including

the European Union, constitutes the global legally

binding instrument regulating activities carried out in

oceans and seas. Part XII is dedicated to the protection

and preservation of the marine environment and requires

states to take measures to prevent, reduce and control

pollution of the marine environment from any source. It

includes provisions on land-based sources of pollution,

pollution from vessels, seabed activities, and dumping

Marine plastics global policy timeline 1960 1970 1972 1978 1979 1983 1989 1992 1 1984 1988 1993 1994 1973 1974 1975 1980 1990 MARPOL Protocol is adopted MARPOL 73/78 Convention enter into force First reports of marine plastic debris impacting on marine species were published London (Dumping) Convention CMS Convention London Convention comes into force UNEP Regional Seas Programme launched MARPOL convention Annex V of the MARPOL Convention enters into force Second International Conference on Marine Debris (Honolulu) Basel Convention Convention on Biological Diversity enters into force Basel Convention enters into force Convention on Biological Diversity * Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris (First Honolulu conference)

Due to the varied sources, pathways and persistence of plastic debris in the marine

environment, there is a myriad of environmental regulations which have a bearing on

how to address this problem. These range from global generic instruments on marine

environmental protection and pollution, through marine litter action plans at the

regional level to specific product bans at the national or municipal level.

What are the policy responses

to the problem?