Explore the Decade


Policy Options to Eliminate Additional Marine Plastic Litter

United Nations Environment Programme

United Nations | Ocean Science & Technology | Ocean Policy & Sustainable Development

The annual discharge of plastic into the ocean is estimated to be 11 million tonnes. New modelling by SYSTEMIQ and The Pew Trusts shows that under business as usual conditions, by 2040 municipal solid plastic waste is set to double, plastic leakage to the ocean is set to nearly triple and plastic stock in the ocean is set to quadruple. Modelling indicates that current government and industry commitments will only have reduced marine plastic litter by 7% in 2040 compared to business as usual.

The UNEP/International Resource Panel (IRP) ‘think piece’ Policy Options to Eliminate Additional Marine Plastic Litter was commissioned by the G20, to qualitatively consider possible policy options to achieve the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, which voluntarily commits G20 countries to “reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050 through a comprehensive life-cycle approach”, thereby ensuring that by 2050, the net volume of plastic entering the ocean is zero. In this endeavor, the think piece shows the marine plastic litter trends relevant to 2050, summarizes the current plastic policy landscape and explores policy upstream and downstream interventions to achieve the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. Based on the analysis presented, it concludes with a set of policy messages to deliver on the Vision and to transition to the systemic changes needed to the plastic economy. These include: 

 1. To deliver the necessary changes for the plastics economy, the G20 should accelerate its work on marine plastic litter as a priority. Now is not the time to lose focus. Action now will prevent the need to do more later. 

2. Greater coordination of marine plastic litter reduction policies is urgently needed. Instead of isolated actions and bans, coordinated reform of regulatory frameworks, business models, and funding mechanisms, such as establishment of a platform to coordinate and share of analysis of existing successful techniques, is needed. 

3. A step change in international and national policy ambition is necessary to achieve the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. The Osaka Blue Ocean Vision will only be achieved by adopting more progressive policy targets, shaped globally but delivered nationally. 

4. Actions that are known to reduce marine plastic litter should be encouraged, shared and scaled up immediately. These include moving from linear to circular plastic production and consumption by designing out waste, incentivising reuse, and exploiting market-based instruments. These will generate ‘quick wins’ to inspire further policy action and provide a context that encourages innovation. 

5. Supporting innovation to transition to a circular plastics economy is essential to achieving the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. While many technical solutions are known and can be initiated today, these are insufficient to deliver the ambitious net-zero target. New approaches and innovations are needed. 

6. There is a significant knowledge gap on the effectiveness of marine plastic litter policies. An urgent and independent program to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of plastics policies is required in order to identify the most effective solutions in different national and regional contexts. 

7. The international trade in plastic waste should be regulated to protect people and nature. Transboundary movement of waste plastics to countries with insufficient waste management infrastructure could result in significant plastic leakage to the natural environment. The Basel Convention has made an important initial step towards making global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated. 

8. COVID-19 recovery stimulus packages have the potential to support the delivery of the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. Measures to reduce marine plastic litter will generate jobs in Greentech and Bluetech sectors and support the delivery of the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. 

 The full report can be accessed here: https://www.unep.org/resources/publication/policy-options-eliminate-additional-marine-plastic-litter

The report is produced by the IRP, which is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It lays out the many and complex challenges stopping the planet from reaching the ambition of global net zero marine plastic pollution by 2050. It makes a series of urgent proposals which are particularly critical at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic contributes to the increase of plastic waste. 

 The report, led by researchers from the University of Portsmouth, has been published on the 13th of July at an event hosted by the Government of Japan. This report was commissioned by the G20 to assess policy options to deliver the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision. Its mission - to reduce additional marine plastic litter entering the ocean to zero by 2050. 

 According to the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ report Breaking the Plastic Wave, the annual discharge of plastic into the ocean is estimated to be 11 million tonnes. The latest modelling indicates that current government and industry commitments will only reduce marine plastic litter by 7% in 2040 compared to business as usual. Urgent and concerted action is needed in order to achieve systemic change. 

Author of the report and IRP Panel member - Steve Fletcher, Professor of Ocean Policy and Economy and Director of Revolution Plastics at the University of Portsmouth said: “It’s time to stop isolated changes where you have country after country doing random things that on the face of it are good but actually don’t make any difference at all. Intentions are good but don’t recognise that changing one part of the system in isolation doesn’t magically change everything else.” 

 Professor Fletcher explained: “A country might put in place recyclable plastics, but if there is no collection process, no recycling system in place and no market for the plastic to be used again and its cheaper to use virgin plastic then that recycled plastic is a total waste of time. It’s a type of ‘green washing’ that looks good on the surface but has no meaningful impact.” The experts say they know their recommendations are probably the most demanding and ambitious yet but warn that time is running out. 

 About the International Resource Panel:

 Launched in 2007, the International Resource Panel is the leading global scientific panel working on the sustainable management of natural resources. It provides authoritative scientific assessments and policy recommendations around global resource use. A group of governments from developed and developing regions, civil society, industrial and international organizations provide strategic direction to ensure relevance and impact of the Panel’s research. The Panel’s Secretariat is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme. www.resourcepanel.org 

 About the United Nations Environment Programme:

 UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. www.unep.org 


Similar Resources