Marine plastic pollution is a fast growing problem. In 2017, 335 million metric tons (Mt) of plastics were produced, and this number is projected to increase almost fourfold to 1,100 Mt by 2050. We know that about 8,300 Mt of plastic has been produced up until this point, of which only 9% have been recycled and 12% have been incinerated. The remaining 79% was landfilled or ended up in the environment uncontrolled, much of it in the world’s oceans. Between 4.8 and 12.7 Mt of plastics ends up in the ocean each year, adding to the uncontrolled plastic waste already floating around the world’s seas.
Large chunks and small particles, or macro- and microplastics are negatively affecting more than 1,400 species. It also costs the tourism sector hundreds of millions of US$ each year as workers are constantly having to clean up beaches. Despite many good initiatives and action plans, the world is about to lose the overall battle. There is an urgent need to vibrantly address the plastic pollution crisis of the oceans on a global level.
The global governance of plastics is fragmented and insufficiently coordinated, oriented more alongside business interests instead of focused on sustainability The international community will have to step up its game to address this crisis head-on – not only through more voluntary and more effective measures but also through negotiating and implementing a legally binding treaty to eliminate plastic discharge into the ocean.
The authors of this report assess the main gaps in global plastic governance and discuss options for a legally binding convention to tackle marine plastic pollution. Such a treaty should entail five key elements:
- a clear goal to stop further marine plastic pollution;
- binding national plastic pollution reduction targets;
- a technical cooperation and financing mechanism;
- a follow-up and review mechanisms, as well as an enhanced science-policy interface;
- a central forum for coordination and for establishing partnerships.