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An update on recent reports and initiatives about marine litter and microplastics waste issues

1. Introduction

    Today, we are inundated by plastic waste as a result of our careless approach to the use and, more so, the lack of planning for the post-use life of this durable material, which has been accompanied by a significant social, economic and ecological cost, and in the next 10-15 years global plastic production is projected to nearly double. Accordingly, manufacturing, distribution, consumption and trade systems for plastic need to change.

    Marine litter is not only an environmental but also a health, economic and aesthetic problem. Most marine litter consists of material that degrades slowly, if at all, so a continuous input of large quantities of these items results in a gradual build-up in the marine and coastal environment. This negative trend has been confirmed by a number of studies in various regions, clearly indicating that the situation with regard to marine litter is continuously getting worse. For both macroplastics and microplastics, the main hotspots, in terms of losses and potential impacts on the marine environment, are related to the use and the end-of-life stages of the plastic value chain. Losses from these stages are important in terms of impacts on marine organisms.

    Over the last several years, many initiatives were taken at all levels to set up strategies and means to manage these complex issues, from the United Nations level to national, regional, as well as company or association levels. In this context the UN Environment report “Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics – Global Lessons and Research to Inspire Action and Guide Policy Change” prepared for the second session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge.

    Could, among other initiatives, moving to a more circular model of design and production, further incentivizing other companies to do the same, be part of a solution?

    2. What is marine litter?

      Marine litter was defined in the report Marine litter – An Analytical overview from UNEP1 as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned, in the marine and coastal environment. Marine litter consists of items that have been made or used by people and deliberately discarded into the sea or rivers or on beaches; brought indirectly to the sea with rivers, sewage, storm water or winds; accidentally lost, including material lost at sea in bad weather (fishing gear, cargo); or deliberately left by people on beaches and shores.

      1 www.cep.unep.org/publications-and-resources/databases/document-database/unep/marine-litter-an-analytical-overview-unep-gpa.pdf/view 

      3. What does the global plastic pollution represent in numbers?

        According to the UN Environment report (2018), approximately 3.0 and 5.3 million tonnes of micro- and macroplastics, respectively, are annually lost to the environment. The global mapping shows that the majority of plastics are produced in China, North America, and Western Europe with 28%, 19%, and 19%, respectively. These regions are also the major plastics consumers with 20%, 21%, and 18% for China, North America, and Western Europe, respectively. The E.U. Commission mentions that it is estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world's oceans. According to the UN Environment2, a recent study estimated the following:

        • 8,300 million metric tons (Mt) of virgin plastics have been produced to date,
        • 6,300 Mt of plastic waste have been generated as of 2015,
        • Of this waste, 9% have been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% have accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
        • 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050 under current production and waste management trends3.
        EU Platic Waste Generation in 2015

        The subsequent marine litter may be found near the source of input but can also be transported over long distances with ocean currents and winds. As a result, marine litter is found in all sea areas of the world – not only in densely populated regions but also in remote places far away from any obvious sources (e.g., on islands in the middle of oceans, and in the polar regions). Marine litter can blow around; remain floating on the water surface; drift in the water column; get entangled on shallow, tidal bottoms; or sink to the seabed at various depths. It is found in oceans and seas, in salt marshes and estuaries, in mangroves, on coral reefs, and on all kinds of shores.

        More generally, according to the World environment day report 2018, the global plastic pollution comes from the fact that, among others:

        • 50% of consumer plastics are single use;
        • 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic;
        • 500 billion plastic bags are used each year;
        • 1 million plastic bottles are bought every minute;
        • 13 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean each year;
        • 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic waste each year.

        In a study of 2002, almost 58 % of the marine litter found could be attributed to shoreline and recreational activities such as beach-picnicking and general littering. During one decade (1992–2002), over 73,000 m³ of marine litter has been gathered on 300 kilometres of rocky beaches on the Swedish west coast.

        Cigarette butts (cellulose acetate) are consistently the most commonly occurring item in coastal clean-up data, while the biggest contributor of larger plastic items in the marine environment (macroplastics) is packaging and single-use consumer products. Sanitary products, such as ear buds, tampons, and absorbent items, have been estimated to account for in excess of 20% of plastics in riverine systems reaching later the oceans due to poor wastewater treatment. Despite accounting for a relatively small share of polymers used in packaging, polystyrene is identified as a polymer of concern in marine plastics because buoyant plastics, especially bottles and products made from polystyrene have a high propensity for washing up on beaches.


        2 UN Environment, 2017. (formerly: United Nations Environmental Programme –UNEP) Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: An assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and subregional governance strategies and approaches.
        3 Geyer, R. et al, 'Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made' (2017) 3(7) Science Advances

        4. What are the main sources of marine litter?

          The primary sources of macroplastic losses stem from mismanaged municipal solid waste (MSW) (i.e. open dumping and inadequate landfilling), accounting for about half of the macroplastics lost to the environment. Littering of plastic waste and loss of fishing gears and other equipment related to maritime activities were also major sources of macroplastic losses. These mismanaged MSW lost to the environment primarily stem from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East, which all have a high level of plastic consumption and harbor a large fraction of inadequately managed MSW.

          In addition, plastics incorporating flame retardants (such as those used in electronic goods), as well as plastics used in the building & construction and transportation sectors, are of concern due to their high use of potentially harmful chemicals, despite having lower production data and counts in marine sampling and coastal clean-up data (due to their being primarily longer-lived products).

          According to the European Commission, the main sources of marine litter are :

          Land-based:

          • landfills ;
          • rivers and floodwaters ;
          • industrial outfalls ;
          • discharge from storm water drains ;
          • untreated municipal sewage ;
          • littering of beaches, coastal areas (tourism).

          Sea-based:

          • fishing and aquaculture ;
          • shipping (e.g. transport, tourism);
          • offshore mining and extraction ;
          • illegal dumping at sea.

          Already in 2005, the UNEP had identified these main sources:

          Marine Litter an analytical overview
          Source : UNEP (2005) - Marine Litter an analytical overview, p 5

          According to the “Global lessons” report of UNEP about marine plastic debris and microplastics4, the quantities and types (size, shape, density, chemical composition) of materials, together with the entry points to the ocean, will determine to a great extent the subsequent distribution and impact. Land-based inputs may be direct from shorelines or via rivers and wastewater discharge. Inputs at sea may be from normal operations, accidental losses or deliberate discarding. There are likely to be significant regional differences in inputs to the ocean from land- and sea-based sources. Inadequate solid waste collection and management is considered to result in substantial leakages of plastics to the ocean.

          Pathways and locations of plastics in the marine environment
          Source : UNEP (2005) - Marine Litter an analytical overview, p 5

          Rivers appear to act as conduits for significant but largely unquantified amounts of macro and microplastics, especially where catchments serve urbanised or industrial centres. Losses from commercial shipping correlate with busy shipping routes. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear tends to be concentrated in fishing grounds, but it can be transported considerable distances if floatation devices remain intact. Locally, aquaculture structures can produce significant quantities of plastic debris if damaged by storms.

          4 www.researchgate.net/publication/309735731_Marine_plastic_debris_and_microplastics_-_global_lessons_and_research_to_inspire_action_and_guide_policy_change 

          5. What about microplastics?

            As described in a UNEP report on the “global lessons”, microplastics are routinely defined as small particles or fragments of plastic measuring less than 5 mm in diameter. Some microplastics are purposefully manufactured for industrial and domestic goals (‘primary’ microplastics). These include ‘microbeads’ used in cosmetic and personal healthcare products, such as toothpaste.

            The microplastics lost are primarily polypropylene (PP), high-density, low-density and linear low-density polyethylene (HDPE,LDPE and LLDPE), polypropylene fibers , and polyethylene terphtalate (PET)-fibers which, although not hazardous, are important with regards to physical impacts in the marine environment.

            For microplastic losses, unlike macroplastics, where the majority of products entering the ocean are at end-of-life, the majority enters the ocean during the product use phase and direct losses to the environment (i.e. as part of city dust, usage of cosmetics and personal care products, and textile washing). The largest sources are from abrasion of tyres and city dust, which include abrasion of plastics from e.g. shoe soles, exterior paints, and road markings. Data from field studies show a range of polymers across different marine compartments, but confirm that microfibers from artificial textiles are the largest source of observed microplastics in the ocean with a notable exception which are polymers related to tyres where, although estimated to be the largest loss of microplastics in one study, the reports of observations of these plastics in the marine environment could not be retrieved.

            These losses of microplastics are mainly driven by large population and per-capita plastic consumption. The most contributing regions are North America, China, Asia (excluding Japan, India, and China), and Western Europe which account for 16%, 20%, 14%, and 11% of the total microplastic losses, respectively.

            ‘Secondary’ microplastics are also created by the weathering and fragmentation of larger plastic objects (from synthetic textile fragments, plastic particles used in cosmetic, or industrial cleansers, etc.), a process that is enhanced by exposure to UV irradiation but which becomes extremely slow once plastic sinks below the surface. Plastics marked as ‘biodegradable’ do not degrade rapidly in the ocean. Nanometer-sized plastics are probably as common as micrometer-sized plastics, yet their hazards are less understood and may be more complex.

            Research has indicated that synthetic microfibers are also present in the atmosphere, providing a pathway for contamination by microplastics through atmospheric fallout while 83% of tap water and 90% of bottled water were found to contain plastic particles.

            A notable exception are polymers related to tyres where, although estimated to be the largest loss of microplastics in this study, reports of observations of these plastics in the marine environment could not be retrieved.

            6. What are the main environmental issues raised by marine litter?

              Problems of macroplastics mainly relate to ingestion of, and entanglement in, the plastic pieces by marine animals. Threats to wildlife and the environment from marine litter include smothering of the seabed, disturbance of habitats from mechanical beach cleaning and pieces of litter that can transport invasive species.

              Most animals killed by marine plastics are undiscovered as the animals either sink to the bottom (e.g. fish) or are eaten by other animals making it near-impossible to observe and monitor the extent of the impacts, especially when considering the large ocean area over which the affected animals may spread.

              The most problematic macroplastics types are bags, fishing lines and nets, and ropes, which all correspond well with the estimated losses related to mismanaged waste, littering, and losses from marine activities. These losses also correlate well with findings of macroplastics in the marine environment.

              There are numerous potential impacts related to microplastics resulting from their ability to cause physical impacts, such as reducing activity/rate/capacity, inducing particle toxicity, adsorbing toxic pollutants, and transporting invasive species.

              There are also potential physical impacts related to the microplastics, such as reduction in feeding activity/rate/capacity, moreover, the plastic particles may also be taken up in organs, cells and tissues (e.g. through uptake of nano-sized plastic particles), which can lead to particle toxicity. Essentially all plastic types can cause physical impacts, where impacts are primarily related to physical microplastic characteristics such as particle size.

              Microplastics containing potentially hazardous additives or residual monomers were also identified as a hotspot. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Polyurethane (PUR) and Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) are largely used in building and construction and PUR is additionally used in the transportation sector Even if it was not possible to estimate the losses of plastics from these applications, these polymers were anyway found to be the most problematic in terms of containing potentially hazardous residual monomers and additives. PVC is the plastic type requiring the most additives, accounting for about 73% of the world production of plastic additives by volume. It is susceptible to degradation and potential release of hazardous monomers/oligomers or additives” and toxicity from leachate from PVC and PUR would been evidenced in laboratory settings.

              Marine Plastic litter also threatens marine and coastal biological diversity in productive coastal areas, causing damage and death to wildlife. Entanglement and ingestion are the primary kinds of direct damage to wildlife caused by marine litter marine organisms such as barnacles and lugworms, which eat the microscopic pieces of plastic.

              Further, marine litter is also increasingly believed to be a source of accumulation of toxic substances in the marine environment and of environmental changes due to the transfer and transport of invasive species between seas, including harmful algal blooms and pathogens. In terms of biological effects, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) concluded in a report5 that there is experimental evidence but only from laboratory experiments with organisms from lower trophic levels, of negative physical/mechanical impacts from ingestion of plastic on the condition, reproductive capacity and survival of individual marine organisms. For the GESAMP report6 however, it is not clear whether this will be significant at a population level with the currently observed microplastic numbers. It appears very likely that this interaction will be dependent on:

              • i) The species;
              • ii) The relative degree of contamination of the plastic, the biota concerned and the marine environment (sediment, water, foodstuff) in that region;
              • iii) The size, shape and type of plastics; iv) Several time-related variables (e.g. environmental transport, gut transfer, absorption/desorption rates).

              This remains a contentious area of research. Generally, the numbers of particles per organism are very small, even for filter-feeding bivalves in coastal areas bordered by high coastal populations. At these levels it is not considered likely that microplastics will influence the breeding/development success of fish stocks (food security), nor represent an objective risk to human health (food safety). However, data are rather scarce and this is an area that justifies further attention. Microplastics can indeed impact an organism at many levels of biological organization. Still, the majority of the evidence is for sub-organismal effects (e.g. changes in gene expression, inflammation, tumour promotion), or effects on individual organisms (i.e. death).

              5 Harm caused by Marine Litter MSFD GES TG Marine Litter – Thematic Report - Joint Research Center of the European Commission  http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC104308/lbna28317enn.pdf
              6 Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment: part two of a global assessment. GESAMP (2016).

              7. What about the presence of microplastics in tap water?

                A recent Danish study (2018) of microplastics in drinking water from 17 sites around Denmark found detectable levels of microplastics in only 6% of sample7. The types of MP particles detected in the tap water samples were polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene and polystyrene. Using the Anodisc method, polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene were also found, as well as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polyurethane.

                These results are in line with a recent Norwegian study from 20188 where no microplastics were detected in 24 samples of drinking water anticipated to have the highest probability to be polluted by microplastics. These results were in contrast with previous American and Danish studies of municipal drinking water, which were highly publicised by the media.

                7 Analysis of microplastic particles in Danish drinking water Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy
                 https://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR291.pdf
                8 Mapping Microplastics in Norwegian Drinking Water - A summary of results and evaluation of suspected health risks
                 https://norskvann.no/files/docs/MP_in_DW_-_excecutive_summary.pdf

                8. Is there an established human health impact of microplastics and marine litter?

                  Medical and sanitary waste constitutes may also a health hazard and could potentially seriously injure people. But according to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)9 concerning the fate of plastic in the human body and their possible adverse health effects, much remains unknown. It is thought that only the smallest particles (1.5 µm or less) will penetrate into the capillaries of the organs and the remaining will be excreted. According to a report of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), plastic is suspected to interact with the immune system, to cause oxidative stress and changes to the DNA.

                  Based on the available scientific evidence, for the FAO report it is safe to state that microplastics do not seem to pose a significant food safety threat and that the health benefits associated with the intake of fishery products will exceed the potential risks. Nonetheless, there are many knowledge gaps such as toxicological data of commonly ingested plastics, the potential impact on the toxicity of microplastics of cooking or processing at high temperature, and the specific pathways for absorption, distribution and translocation of nanoplastic particles within the tissues and organs of the human body.

                  At the US-EPA Expert Discussion Forum on Possible Human Health Risks from Microplastics in the Marine Environment10 , to the question whether the persistent, bioaccumulable and toxic (PBT) substances from marine microplastics are likely to cause or not human health effects, it was replied that the dose of these substances from microplastics must be addressed before answering this question. Some participants to the EPA Discussion Forum agreed that these are likely a source of PBTs to humans, and that there is insufficient data to draw conclusions about human body burden.

                  Every year, the presence of marine litter causes damage that entails great economic costs and losses to people, property and livelihood, as well as it poses risks to health and even lives. These include damage to fishing, fishing boats and gear; damage to cooling water intakes in power stations, contamination of beaches and commercial harbours and marinas demanding cleaning operations, and contamination of coastal grazing land, causing injury to livestock. Besides, marine litter also spoils, fouls and destroys the beauty of the sea and of the coastal zone.

                  9 Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2017.  Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. Lusher, A.L.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Mendoza-Hill, J.J. and FAO - The impact of microplastics on food safety: the case of fishery and aquaculture products Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. No. 615. Rome, Italy ,
                  www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/fishery-information/resource-detail/en/c/1046435/ 
                  10 www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/summary-expert-discussion-forum-possible-human-health-risks-microplastics-marine  

                  9. What are the main obstacles to solving the problem of marine litter?

                    A major reason to the marine litter problem that appears to increase worldwide are littering practices from the shipping sector, as well as lack of land-based infrastructure to receive litter, combined with a lack of awareness among main stakeholders and the general public. The Analytical Report on marine litter of the UNEP underlined that among the other main contributions to the problem were the deficiencies in the implementation and enforcement of existing international and regional environment-related agreements, as well as national regulations and standards.

                    10. What are the main initiatives taken to manage plastic waste and marine litter?

                      The most urgent short-term solution to reducing plastic inputs, especially in developing economies, is improving waste collection and management. This can be integrated in part in existing global and international agreements and Conventions. They include pollution-oriented agreements, biodiversity- and species-oriented agreements, and chemicals- and waste-oriented agreements or legally binding instruments adopted by States in fourteen regions for the preservation of their regional seas or other non-binding instruments. They have been adopted at the global level, including the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

                      The problem is that marine litter is not always specifically mentioned in global or regional conventions, agreements or action plans. Meanwhile, a wide range of marine litter-related instruments already exist and actions are being taken at the global and regional levels and education, information and training are vital components in all efforts towards more waste-wise thinking in society as a whole.

                      As underlined in the UN report on combating plastic litter11, long-term solutions include improved governance at all levels as well as behavioural and system changes, such as a more circular economy and more sustainable production and consumption patterns. Nationally, a number of countries have taken comprehensive action to address the marine litter issues through legislation, enforcement of international agreements, providing reception facilities for ship-generated wastes, improving their waste management practices and supporting extensive beach clean-up activities, as well as information, education and public awareness programmes. For example, the plastic bag bans in place in more than nearly 100 countries prove just how powerful direct government action on plastics can be.

                      In the case of municipal landfills and sewage treatment, coastal and riverside communities/municipalities should make sure that open landfills for household waste and/or industrial waste are eliminated, as part of their overall waste management strategy. Solid household waste should be sorted and taken proper care of, and sewage treatment, in adequately equipped facilities, should be a priority for municipalities.

                      To prevent marine litter from merchant ships, offshore platforms and pleasure craft, efforts should be made to reduce the generation of waste on board ships and platforms. Waste management plans are needed for larger vessels and platforms, and preparations for proper waste management should be made in advance also by those on-board smaller vessels and pleasure craft. Waste should be stored on board and discharged ashore in a proper reception facility. However, this requires adequate space on board for storage and the provision of reception facilities in all commercial harbours and marinas. It also calls for harmonized regional and global regulations to ensure that harbours/marinas are equipped to take care of the waste and that they do not cause ships undue delay in port.

                      Regarding marine litter from fishing vessels, efforts should be made to reduce the generation of waste on board, and preparations should be made for storage of waste on board until one comes ashore. All fishing gear, particularly drift nets, should be marked to make it possible to find them again if they are lost at sea. No fishing gear should ever be deliberately discarded but taken ashore for proper disposal.

                      Research and development projects are also carried out with the objective to develop plastic packaging material that can be degraded (e.g., by bacteria, or under the influence of UV light). However, although such materials might help decrease the total amount of persistent plastics in the marine and coastal (and terrestrial) environment, one should be aware of the fact that developing more "litter-friendly" materials will send the wrong signal to people. If contaminating the environment with "litter-friendly" waste is considered acceptable, it will be very difficult to draw the line and accomplish any consistent change in attitude and behaviour.

                      There are also important regional initiatives such as the Pacific Regional Action Plan12 and the Australian Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on the vertebrate wildlife of Australia’s coasts and oceans13 (2018). In December 2018, a special focus on microplastics and the environmental issues facing tropical Southeast Asia was made at the International Conference on Plastics in Marine Environment14 addressing the issue of plastic debris in the marine environment.

                      11 UN Environment - Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: an assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and subregional governance strategies and approaches
                      12 www.sprep.org/.../pacific-regional-action-plan-marine-litter  
                      13 www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/threat-abatement-plan-impacts-marine-debris-vertebrate-marine-life  
                      14 www.icpmesg.com/ 

                      11. What is the content of the Resolution on Marine Litter and Microplastics of the United Nations Environment Assembly?

                        The Resolution 3/7 on marine litter and microplastics, adopted at the 3rd session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-3) is urging all countries and other stakeholders to make responsible use of plastic while endeavoring to reduce unnecessary plastic use and to promote research and application of environmentally-sound alternatives. It is also urging all actors to step up actions to “by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution” and recognizes with concern that natural disasters and increasingly severe weather events cause significant input of marine litter and microplastics to the marine environment.

                        On this basis the Assembly will request the Executive Director, subject to the availability of resources, to strengthen the United Nations Environment Programme's capacity and activity on marine litter and microplastics, including through:

                        • (i) Strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme’s contribution to the Global Partnership on Marine Litter;
                        • (ii) Providing advice on the prioritizing of activities upon request based on best available scientific knowledge, and the most environmentally sound and cost-effective measures to prevent and reduce marine litter and microplastics, according to the UNEA resolutions 1/6, 2/11 and this resolution;
                        • (iii) Facilitating the establishment and implementation of regional and national action plans to prevent and reduce litter and microplastics in the marine environment, as requested by Member States;
                        • (iv) Supporting countries, upon request, in collaboration with other international organisations and relevant stakeholders, in closing data gaps and improving the availability of accessible data on sources and extent of marine litter and microplastics in the environment;
                        • (v) Closely liaising with other UN agencies to encourage them to support programmes to achieve marine litter and microplastic reduction.

                        It also invites relevant international and regional Organizations and Conventions to increase their action to prevent and reduce marine litter and microplastics and their harmful effects, and coordinate where appropriate to achieve this end. In this context the initial Programme of Work of an Ad Hoc Open Ended Expert Group build for the purpose is:

                        • (i) To explore all barriers to combating marine litter and microplastics, including challenges related to resources in developing countries;
                        • (ii) To identify the range of national, regional and international response options, including actions and innovative approaches, and voluntary and legally binding governance strategies and approaches;
                        • (iii) To identify environmental, social and economic costs and benefits of different response options;
                        • (iv) To examine the feasibility and effectiveness of different response options;
                        • (v) To identify potential options for continued work for consideration by the United Nations Environment Assembly.

                        12. What are the initiatives regarding marine litter at the level of the E.U.?

                          The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires E.U. Member States to ensure that, by 2020, "properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment".

                          Pollution of the seas from plastics and microplastics is one of the three major areas of the Strategy for Plastics , adopted by the Commission in January 2018; most of the proposed Actions are directly or indirectly related to marine litter, including its international dimension15.

                          Flagship initiatives against plastic pollution of the oceans, flowing from the Strategy are:

                          • Consideration of measures against single use plastics and fishing gears: the Commission adopted its proposal  in May 2018 - "Be ready to change! ";
                          • Assessment of the need to restrict microplastics intentionally used in products under REACH and request to European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prepare a restriction dossier, on the basis of a Commission study  regarding microplastics intentionally added in products;
                          • Consideration of measures against microplastics generated during the life cycle of products, on the basis of another Commission  study.

                          The European Commission (EC) also presented its proposal for amending the Port Reception Facilities  Directive, aiming inter alia to reduce marine litter from ships, including fishing vessels and recreational craft.

                          On the other hand, the E.U. Circular Economy  Package sets a target for reducing by 30% beach litter and list fishing gear until 2020. The Ocean Governance Communication  adopted by the EC in November 2016 puts the problem in a broader marine pollution and international context and includes a list of actions.

                          15 European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy
                          https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN 

                          13. How can progress in marine litter management be monitored?

                            In response to the Resolution on Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastic (UNEP/EA.2/Res. 11) adopted by the second session of the UN Environment Assembly, an assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and sub-regional governance strategies and approaches was proposed by the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. The two parts of this assessment are, on one hand, a mapping study that provides insight into the current state of the governance strategies and approaches at the international, regional and sub-regional levels within the context of marine plastic litter and microplastics, identifying the gaps and, on the other hand, the discussion on these policy gaps to provide policy options including:

                            • Review and revision of existing frameworks to address marine plastic litter and microplastics, and add a component to coordinate industry;
                            • A new global architecture with a multi-layered governance approach.

                            The panel of experts and the Advisory Group identified 14 existing gaps and concluded that current governance strategies and approaches provide a fragmented approach that does not adequately address marine plastic litter and microplastics. This includes limitations in scope and mandate, broad and indirect application to the issue and variations in strategies and approaches incorporated in binding and/or voluntary instruments. When looking forward, underlines the report, a progressive holistic approach is now urgently needed16.

                            A combination of binding, voluntary and self-regulatory measures are indeed necessary to manage the complexities of the lifecycle of plastics, including the international trade of products, components and waste. Due diligence of industry must play a role in progressing towards environmentally sustainable production, consumption and disposal of plastics and of their chemical additives.

                            On this basis, a series of recommendations was made for the 3d UN Environment General Assembly (UNEA 3) and described in a summary for policy makers17. Efforts need to be made to improve coordination of activities and finding synergies under multiple multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), as well as the monitoring of progress specific to the issue of plastic pollution.

                            Harmonization of targets, reporting procedures, compliance and liability would be some of the responses needed to improve coordination. One of the key messages is that international standards are required to manage the lifecycle of plastic, including providing transparent and stable end-markets for plastic waste. Standards can also include quality standards for the types of plastics produced for domestic and international markets to reduce off-specification plastics and prevent market re-entry of regulated chemicals.

                            Another important milestone in the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD – 2008/56/EC) is the establishment of monitoring programmes. To this end the E.U. developed a “Guidance on Monitoring of Marine Litter in European Seas”, whose objective is to provide Member States with a general framework and recommendations and information needed to commence such monitoring and its coordination at the Regional Level that have to be "coordinated", "compatible", "coherent", "consistent" and "comparable". The MSFD recommends in particular Member States to use existing regional institutional cooperation structures, such as those under the Regional Sea Conventions (RSCs), in order to achieve such coherence and coordination of their marine strategies and build upon relevant existing programmes and activities such as the OSPAR, Barcelona, Helsinki or Bucharest Conventions.

                            The guidance document describes specific protocols and considerations to collect, report and assess data on marine litter, in particular beach litter, floating litter, seafloor litter, litter in biota and microliter linking monitoring to assessment needs, including the use of risk-based approach, should be used as a basis for flexible monitoring design, taking into account the differences in scientific understanding for each descriptor in the monitoring programmes, and applying the precautionary principle.

                            Indicators to characterize marine litter, including microparticles are defined for the different marine environmental compartments (beach, water column, water surface and seafloor), and one indicator determines impacts of litter on marine life (biota), which needs to be further developed.

                            Beach litter monitoring is particularly well suited for use of volunteers and shallow water litter surveys can be done with the aid of volunteer scuba divers. Many countries (e.g. UK, Spain, France) already use volunteers to monitor beach litter. The existence of clear, simple yet comparable protocols is essential in this respect.

                            16 Watch in this context the short animation video : The principle of emergence 
                            17  https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/unep_aheg_2018_1_inf_3_summary_policy_makers.pdf

                            14. How could a more circular economy contribute to solve the issues of plastic waste and marine litter?

                              Moving decisively towards a more prosperous and sustainable plastics economy in a vision of a circular plastics economy could deliver considerable benefits. To reap these, a strategic vision is needed, setting out what a ‘circular’ plastics economy could look like in the decades ahead. This vision needs to promote investment in innovative solutions and turn today’s challenges into opportunities. While the E.U. will propose concrete measures to achieve this vision described in its European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy18, making it a reality will require action from all players in the plastic value chain, from plastic producers and designers, through brands and retailers, to recyclers. Similarly, civil society, the scientific community, businesses and local authorities will have a decisive role to play in making a difference, working together with regional and national governments to bring about positive change. In Europe, citizens, government and industry support indeed more sustainable and safer consumption and production patterns for plastics.

                              This provides a fertile ground for social innovation and entrepreneurship, creating a wealth of opportunities for all Europeans. To move towards that vision, this strategy proposes an ambitious set of EU measures. These will be put forward in line with the Better Regulation principles. In particular, any measure likely to have significant socioeconomic impact will be accompanied by an impact assessment. Recognising the importance and need of common efforts, the strategy also identifies key actions for national and regional authorities and industry.

                              18 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN 

                              15. What are the particular challenges for developing countries to face marine litter issues?

                                With regard to the challenges faced by developing countries, difficulties are related to capacity-building, resource mobilization and lack of alternatives in replacing certain types of plastics. Small island developing States are particularly vulnerable to the problem of marine plastic litter and microplastics and faced significant challenges with regard to waste management and plastic pollution : limited resources and legislative mechanisms, small recycling markets, a lack of capacity to monitor, govern and deal with pollution, a lack of experts to carry out much-needed analyses, and a lack of coordination at the national and regional levels to deal with plastic pollution in a holistic manner. Small islands developing States therefore needed international support to deal with the problem, as well as more awareness raising programmes on marine litter and microplastics, especially for the most vulnerable populations.

                                Positive work is being done by Pacific islands who developed a Pacific regional plan on marine litter, and encouraged the international community to support this and similar regional schemes19.

                                Extensive use of water bags had helped Ghana address a cholera epidemic but had created a major plastic waste issue, since the bags were low-quality and could not be reused. This situation, a representative of the country said, emphasized the need to raise public awareness about plastics, to provide technical support to countries at different stages of waste management, and to ensure that industry, which often promoted as biodegradable, plastics that merely fragmented and released additives into the environment, provided accurate information on its products and packaging.

                                A representative from a country said that it was critical to engage with major plastic producers in order to determine which plastics should be considered necessary, and urged the Governments of exporting countries to consider adopting legislation or other measures through which the export of plastics from companies based in their territories could be reduced.

                                19 Pacific Regional Action Plan - Marine litter 2018-2015
                                 www.sprep.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/MAP-Digital-small.pdf

                                16. What are the most encompassing legislations and initiatives taken globally to solve the marine litter challenges?

                                  After the prominence of World Environment Day 2018, the number of government-, industry- and consumer-led actions continues to rise. So far, plastic bags and, to a lesser extent, foamed plastic products have been the main focus of government actions. Bans on single-use plastic bags have been especially evident in developing countries, particularly Africa and Asia, with restrictions and other disincentives (taxes or levies) motivated primarily by waste management and litter concerns. More than 60 countries have introduced measures to curb single-use plastic waste.

                                  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the only binding policy that requires nations to minimise pollution from both marine and land-based sources that may enter the marine environment.

                                  The Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans are of direct relevance to reducing marine plastic pollution. The action plans target key activities and sources of plastic waste in 18 separate regions and set binding and non-binding legislation to reduce these sources.

                                  The European Union (EU) Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the first European Union legislative instrument related to the protection of marine biodiversity and ecosystems through managing human activities that have an impact on the marine environment. More particularly, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive requires member states to develop a marine litter strategy, thus most member countries have implemented - or are in the process of developing National Marine Strategies. Further, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy is a global leader in describing the vision for a revised and sustainable plastics economy. Other countries with strategies or action plans on marine litter include Japan, the USA and Australia.

                                  In a monitoring study of micro-litter in Scandinavian marine environments20 four different case studies were carried out to determine dominating micro-litter types from urban environments to the regional Scandinavian seas (eastern North Sea). The samplings were both from sediment near sources (urban runoff and road dust sediment), and further out from coastal sediments.

                                  The sea surface layer and subsurface samples were taken in two different gradients. The most common types of micro-litter found varied between studies but common trends could be identified between the road tunnel sediment and the urban creek sediment. They both contained black particles resembling tyre rubber from both visual and tactile tests, and also asphalt, charcoal, oil/tar particles and road marker particles.

                                  In the coastal water samples the surface layer was dominated by polystyrene foam particles and polyethylene fragments and films. In the subsurface water samples, fibers, films and fragments of plastic were most common. In both the Gothenburg urban creek sediment and Oslo fjord surface, water samples particles that could be related to artificial sports turf (polyethylene green grass and clear cut, tire granulate) were observed. The micro-litter in mussels was dominated by fibers. The approach of using gradient studies, which include both near source sampling as well as recipient gradient sampling, was concluded to be very suitable to determine sources and fate.

                                  17. What were more specifically the highlights of the 6th international Marine Debris Conference held in 2018?

                                    The Conference21 highlighted innovative marine debris solutions, research, and technological advances since the last international marine debris conference held in 2011, and facilitated discussions around strategies to minimize the impacts and occurrence of marine debris. A major strength of the conference was its diversity of disciplines and expertise, including science, art, outreach, and education from individuals representing government, academia, private industry, community groups, and many more. The conference included a zero waste initiative that incorporated limiting single-use items, composting and donating excess food, and recycling remaining conference materials.

                                    21  http://internationalmarinedebrisconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sixth_International_Marine_Debris_Conference_Proceedings.pdf

                                    18. In which areas the World Environment Day wishes to influence change?

                                      The World Environment Day wishes to influence change in four key areas:

                                      • Reducing Single-Use Plastics. Eliminating single-use plastics, both from design chains to our consumer habits is a critical first step to beat plastic pollution;
                                      • Improving Waste Management. Waste management and recycling schemes are essential to a new plastics economy;
                                      • Phasing Out Microplastics. Trace amounts are turning up in our blood, stomachs, and lungs with increasing regularity. Humans add to the problem with micro-beads from beauty products and other non-recoverable materials;
                                      • Promoting Research into Alternatives. Further research is needed to make sustainable plastic alternatives solutions to oil-based plastics both economically viable and widely available.

                                      19. What is done concerning particularly plastic waste in the frame of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and Basel Convention on waste management?

                                        In 2017, the regional centres of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions were encouraged to work on the impact of plastic waste, marine plastic litter, microplastic, and measures for prevention and environmentally sound management. In particular, the Open-ended Working Group, a subsidiary of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, considered the relevant options available under the Convention to further address marine plastic litter and microplastics, and the Household Waste Partnership established under the Basel Convention will further explore the environmentally sound management of household wastes, including plastics.

                                        20. What are the main recommendations of the UN Environment report to manage the marine litter challenges?

                                          To their potential impacts on the marine environment, the UN Environment report 2018 recommendations are to focus on reducing losses of:

                                          • i) Macroplastics from MSW, in particular plastic packaging. Initiatives should not be limited to the end-of-life stage; instead, measures for reducing potential plastic losses at the end-of-life stage should be implemented along the entire plastic value chain. Particular focus should be on regions whether the largest losses occur, i.e. Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East;
                                          • ii) Microplastics from use of consumer-related applications. Initiatives should not be limited to the use stage; instead, measures for reducing potential plastic losses during the use stage should be implemented along the entire plastic value chain. Particular focus on the regions North America, China, Asia (excluding Japan, India, and China), and Western Europe, which are responsible for the majority of microplastic losses;
                                          • iii) Plastic goods from marine activities (e.g. fishing, aquaculture, etc.);
                                          • iv) Any plastics identified to pose a hazardous risk to marine organisms.

                                          Main reports referenced

                                          Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. 2016. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.
                                          UNEP-POPS-PUB-LEAFLET-Brochure-MarineLitter-2018.English%20(2).pdf 
                                          Our Oceans, Seas and Coasts - Descriptor 10: Marine Litter E.U. Commission 
                                          Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: an assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and sub-regional governance strategies and approaches
                                           https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/unep_aheg_2018_inf3_full_assessment_en.pdf
                                           https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/unep_aheg_2018_1_inf_3_summary_policy_makers.pdf
                                          Guidance on Monitoring of Marine Litter in European Seas. A guidance document within the Common Implementation Strategy for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
                                          MSFD Technical Subgroup on Marine Litter. E.U. Joint Research Centre -Institute for Environment and Sustainability (2013)
                                           http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC83985/lb-na-26113-en-n.pdf
                                          Sixth International Marine Debris Conference, San Diego, 2018
                                           http://internationalmarinedebrisconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sixth_International_Marine_Debris_Conference_Proceedings.pdf
                                          http://ismp.ecnu.edu.cn/ 
                                          Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment: a global assessment.
                                          (Kershaw, P. J., ed.). (2015). (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/UNIDO/WMO/IAEA/UN/UNEP/UNDP Joint Group of Experts on, Rep. Stud. GESAMP No. 90, 96 p.
                                           http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002475/247517e.pdf
                                          Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture - Status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety.
                                          (2017) Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
                                           http://www.fao.org/3/a-i7677e.pdf
                                           Summary of Expert Discussion Forum on Possible Human Health Risks from Microplastics in the Marine Environment - US-EPA (2015)
                                          Marine Litter - An analytical overview – UNEP (2005) 
                                          World Environment Day 2018: Overview  
                                           First meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics
                                          Second meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics.
                                          UN Environment, December 2018 https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/second-adhoc-oeeg 
                                          A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy
                                          COM/2018/028 final https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN 
                                          Further Reading:

                                          2018 Ministerial declaration of the United Nations Environment Assembly at its third session: Towards a pollution-free planet
                                           https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/k1800398.english.pdf

                                          2018 UNEA Resolution 3/7: Marine litter and microplastics
                                           https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/k1800210.english.pdf

                                          2017 Pollution Report of the Executive Director
                                           https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/k1708347e.pdf

                                          2017 General Assembly Resolution 71/312: Our ocean, our future: call for action
                                          http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/312 

                                          2016 UNEA Resolution 2/11: Marine plastic litter and microplastics
                                           https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/K16/072/28/pdf/K1607228.pdf

                                          2016 Report: Marine Plastic Debris & Microplastics: Global Lessons and Research to Inspire Action and Guide Policy Change
                                          https://wedocs.unep.org/rest/bitstreams/11700/retrieve 

                                          2014 Marine Litter study to support the establishment of an initial quantitative headline reduction target
                                           http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-10/pdf/final_report.pdf

                                          2018 A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy
                                          https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1516265440535&uri=COM:2018:28:FIN 

                                          Plastic Pollution Facts and Figures
                                          http://www.beachapedia.org/Plastic_Pollution_Facts_and_Figures 

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