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Marine Litter

6. What is currently being done in the world about the marine litter?

  • 6.1 Land-based sources: achievements within the UN system at a global scale
  • 6.2 Ship- and platform-based plastic litter – MARPOL 73/78 Annex V
  • 6.3 UN global assessment processes
  • 6.4 Examples of Regional Assessments
  • 6.5 European Commission initiatives
  • 6.6 USA, National initiatives
  • 6.7 Coastal municipalities and local authorities
  • 6.8 Chemical industry policies regarding marine litter
  • 6.9 Non-governmental Organizations
  • 6.10 Round-table discussion

6.1 Land-based sources: achievements within the UN system at a global scale

Marine debris as an environmental problem has gained increasing attention through recent UN Resolutions, global environmental agreements and decisions of international agencies.

UNEP has published a review of their global initiative on marine litter which revealed “a widespread lack of systematic, scientific knowledge on the amounts, sources, fates, trends and impacts (social, economic and environmental) of marine litter, which hampers development and implementation of effective mitigation actions”.

IOC and UNEP (Regional Seas Programme) have developed a set of guidelines for conducting consistent survey and monitoring programmes (UNEO/IOC, 2009) as well as guidelines on the use of market-based instruments to address the problem of marine litter (UNEP 2009b).

Despite these initiatives, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of marine debris, in particular micro-plastics, regarding inputs and potential impacts, especially at the local level and many questions still to be answered regarding the effectiveness of waste management measures. Capacity building in waste management is an area where much more effort needs to be mobilized since one of the main issues is the absence or poor development of waste management systems in large parts of the world. More...

6.2 Ship- and platform-based plastic litter – MARPOL 73/78 Annex V

By comparison to land-based sources, the contribution of garbage from shipping may not be as large as previously thought, although it remains a concern.

It is one of the few inputs of plastic and other debris which is directly controlled by international treaty. Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 aims to eliminate and reduce the amount of rubbish being dumped into the sea from ships. It explicitly prohibits the disposal of plastics anywhere into the sea.

In practice, it is broadly recognized it has struggled to achieve its goals and in 2005, the General Assembly invited the International Maritime Organization to review Annex V to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Proposed changes would lead to a strengthened regulation with more extensive record keeping, through which it would be clearer to all that disposal of garbage at sea is in principle prohibited unless under very special circumstances such as emergencies. More...

6.3 UN global assessment processes

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 there was a decision to establish by 2004 “The regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects”. Assessments are a useful tool for decision-making, but a single assessment is not enough. It needs to be part of a process to draw up a coherent global picture.

In order to create this process, an Assessment of Assessments (AoA) was carried out to review the availability and quality and existing assessments of the marine environment. A Working Group of the UN General Assembly is currently working with the result of this assessment to develop the process (http://www.un.org/Depts/los/global_reporting/global_reporting.htm )

The Global Environmental Facility, Trans-boundary Waters Assessment Programme (GEF-TWAP; http://twap.iwlearn.org/), aims to develop methodologies to assess trans-boundary water systems and to develop partnerships among UN and other agencies. The TWAP should help identify priority areas for intervention and must cover natural systems but also human systems including governance, the consequences for humans and the required stakeholder actions.

More...

6.4 Examples of Regional Assessments

UNEP COBSEA - Marine litter in the East Asian Seas Region

COBSEA (Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam) commissioned a review (UNEP, 2008) on marine litter in the East Asian Seas region and concluded as follows:

  1. Marine litter from both land- and sea-based sources is one of the major threats to the world’s oceans;
  2. Very little is known about the extent and nature of the problem in the East Asian Seas region;
  3. The problem of marine litter is likely to be particularly severe in the East Asian Seas region, due to development on the one hand and to the current lack of effective marine litter prevention and control measures in many countries of the region;
  4. As a component of the broader marine litter problem, lost or abandoned fishing gear is likely to be a major concern in the East Asian Seas region, due to extremely large size of the fishing industry and lack of effective regulation of the industry in the region, including an extremely high level of IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing in the region; and
  5. All countries in the region face significant barriers to the effective prevention and control of marine litter.

A regional action plan for marine litter had been agreed among COBSEA’s 10 member states, to prevent, mitigate, raise awareness and monitor marine litter.

WIOMSA, Marine Litter in the West Indian Ocean Region: First Regional Assessment

The West Indian Ocean Marine Science Association carried out a Regional Seas Assessment on pollution status (Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania) and, with regard to marine litter, concluded that:

  1. Very little data exist other than in South Africa. Nowhere has the economic impact of litter been adequately quantified;
  2. Marine litter is not dealt with in policy or law as a separate category of waste;
  3. Most countries do have laws and policies on solid waste management but in many instances they are not effectively implemented;
  4. The most significant source of marine litter is solid waste in runoff of water from urbanised areas;
  5. The major constraints to effective waste management are inadequate awareness about impacts and/ or a shortage of funds to deal with it;
  6. Sea-based sources of litter do not appear to be as significant as land-based sources and are even more difficult for countries in the region to control;
  7. The extent to which solid waste generated on land is prevented from reaching the sea varies between countries, and regions within countries.
  8. Although the overall levels of marine litter produced by the countries in the West Indian Ocean must be insignificant compared with levels from highly industrialized economies, the situation is considered serious enough to require urgent remedy.

AMEP - Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution of the Wider Caribbean Region

AMEP covers 28 member countries in the Wider Caribbean region, including the overseas territories of the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and France. In the region, land-based solid waste represents the largest source of marine debris at 70-80% and AMEP places the major emphasis on prevention through the Cartagena Convention.

AMEP has considerable direct experience in confronting the marine litter problem in the Caribbean, as tourism in the region involves a high proportion of large cruise ships and yachts. More...

6.5 European Commission initiatives

The European Commission recognises that marine biodiversity is under severe pressure from habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation, over- exploitation, unsustainable practices, invasive species, ocean acidification, pollution and climate change.

The EU is gradually developing legislation to protect the seas and a Marine Strategy Framework Directive was adopted in 2008. This lays out the plan that “the EU Member States shall take the necessary measures to achieve or maintain good environmental status in the marine environment by the year 2020 at the latest”.

Good Environmental Status means the preservation of ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive, the use of the marine environment at a sustainable level, protecting the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations. To achieve this, each EU Member State must progressively put in place its own “Marine Strategy” action plan.

As far as research is concerned, the drivers for the Marine/Maritime research strategy in the European Union (EU) are:

  1. the maritime economy is of crucial importance and we need to further develop it;
  2. there is an increasing environmental pressure from human activities and climate change, together with increasing competition for marine space ; and,
  3. there is a need to better predict (and mitigate) the impact of climate change through marine science.

In order to achieve this, the European Commission has issued, within the framework of its research funding, calls for research projects on a wide range on topics touching to the state of the oceans, whether on maritime transport, spatial planning, energy, fisheries, aquaculture or marine biotechnologies. It is recognized that the seas are shared and major research infrastructure and programmes require funding beyond the capacity of single member states and call for new governance mechanisms. More...

6.6 USA, National initiatives

In the USA, a programme has been launched to support national and international efforts in understanding and reducing marine debris. This led to a number of workshops on the topic of micro-plastics.

The Marine Debris Program of the NOAA recognises the need for well standardised, long-term and consistent methods http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/. NOAA also supports the improvement in techniques related to sorting and analysis of micro-plastic particles and to the changes brought by degradation and weathering. More...

6.7 Coastal municipalities and local authorities

Coastal municipalities rely heavily on the marine environment and are therefore directly confronted with issues of global pollution over which they often have little control, including marine litter, which affect tourism and recreation, marine industries such as fishing and aquaculture as well as shipping.

Education, regulation and enforcement are seen as key solutions, together with economic instruments such as deposit/refund schemes, a plastic bag levy, no special-fee port reception facilities and improving plastic article design for recycling. More...

6.8 Chemical industry policies regarding marine litter

Europe

PlasticsEurope supports the UNEP view that the majority of marine litter originates from land-based sources and that we need to prevent it from entering marine habitats through integrated management of solid-waste. PlasticsEurope and the European Plastics Converters (EUPC) are therefore focussed on finding solutions to dramatically reduce the volumes of waste that ends up in the oceans. A growing concern is how to address the legacy of waste already present in the oceans?

Some 10 years of effort and over 50 million Euros of industry investment have been mobilized to reduce plastic waste and to encourage recycling. EUPC and PlasticsEurope fund nine work programmes covering topics such law enforcement, logistics, education and knowledge transfer.

PlasticsEurope and EuPC are setting up a long- term programme based on a strong EU partnership involving the plastics industry chain, NGOs, the waste and recovery industry, the EU and national authorities, the research and academic community and a National Educational programme. The aim is to develop a set of clear objectives and to select the right tools to achieve them, as well as to create awareness by working together in an open consortium towards solutions.

United States

A campaign by the American Chemical Council’s (ACC) Plastic Division “Plastics – Too Valuable to Waste - Recycle.” emphasizes their view that “plastics do not belong in the oceans; they belong in recycling bins after use.”

The ACC’s activities to reduce marine debris have included:

  • Marine Debris Solutions Workshop that convened a broad spectrum of federal and state agencies, business and industry groups as well as NGOs.
  • Sponsoring demonstration projects establishing 700 recycling bins for plastics and other materials along the California coast, primarily at beaches and rest stops.
  • Promoting prevention of litter and recycling as a member of the national non-profit Keep America Beautiful (KAB) major upcoming antilitter campaign.
  • Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) – a set of best practices for management to help companies that make or use plastic resins to implement good housekeeping and pellet containment practices.
  • The ACC and its members also support local and national clean-up campaigns and marine debris research through NOAA and other organizations.

More...

6.9 Non-governmental Organizations

International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)

The International Coastal Cleanup programme was initiated in 1986, with a single cleanup campaign by volunteers along the coast of Texas, USA. It has grown significantly since then, and in 2009 it was 498,818 volunteers from 108 countries and locations who participated and collected 3,357 tonnes of debris from over 6000 sites.

WWF

WWF considers the plastic litter problem to be a global one, requiring global solutions, which should focus on improved products while avoiding harm to marine life. An important part of this is through improved legislations on the international and national levels. More...

6.10 Round-table discussion

Key stakeholders need to be involved in policy strategies, as there is often a large gap between international efforts and local government levels. Local government is the most important stakeholder, but may be the weakest link in the chain, in terms of awareness and resourcing. Without addressing levels of capacity there is little hope of progress.

Beaches can be relatively easy to monitor for litter and micro-plastics, so building this parameter into existing monitoring programmes should not be too difficult.

One area where micro-plastics could be incorporated is through regional programmes of monitoring and there is a need for a consistent and clear micro-plastic parameter to introduce into regional monitoring programmes.

The workshop suggested also that NOAA’s current methodologies for sampling the water column and sediments be adopted for monitoring micro-plastics, taking account of published work, and micro-plastic monitoring in the water column could be introduced into routine programmes of sampling of plankton More...


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