Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics

Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics

Global Lessons and Research to Inspire Action and Guide Policy Change You do not have access to this content

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Author(s):
UNEP
11 May 2016
Pages:
273
ISBN:
9789210601603 (PDF)
http://dx.doi.org/10.18356/0b228f55-en

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This report presents both short- and long-term approaches to the problem of marine plastic debris and micro plastics. It provides an overview of the latest science and experiences, identifies priority areas of action, and points out areas requiring more research. Improved waste management is urgently needed to reduce the flow of plastic into our oceans.

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  • Glossary
  • Foreword

    The global production of plastics in 2014 was 311 million tonnes. It has been estimated that in 2010 alone, between 4.8-12.7 million metric tons of plastic found their way into our oceans. Plastic debris and microplastics is transported by ocean currents across borders. It is found everywhere, even on the remotest shores of uninhabited islands, in the Arctic ice, the deep ocean and in a broad array of marine organisms. Whether due to poor waste and wastewater management, accidental losses that could have been prevented, or illegal dumping, the “leakage” of this debris into our oceans has serious environmental, social and economic consequences. It harms wildlife, safety of sea transport, fisheries, tourism, recreation, it threatens marine ecosystems and morally should be considered a common concern of mankind.

  • Policy-relevant recommendations

    In the light of the evidence and findings contained in the study entitled “Marine plastic debris and microplastics: global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change”, and in order to address problems related to marine litter in the most efficient and effective way, it is recommended that States

  • Executive summary

    Plastic debris, or litter, in the ocean is now ubiquitous. Society’s adoption of plastics as a substitute for traditional materials has expanded almost exponentially since the 1950s, when large-scale plastic production began. Durability is a common feature of most plastics, and it is this property, combined with an unwillingness or inability to manage end-of-life plastic effectively that has resulted in marine plastics and microplastics becoming a global problem. As for many pollutants, plastic waste is a trans-boundary, complex, social, economic and environmental problem with few easy solutions. Warnings of what was happening were reported in the scientific literature in the early 1970s, with little reaction from much of the scientific community. It is only in the past decade that the scale and importance of the problem has received due attention. This report was prepared at the request of the first United Nations Environment Assembly, which took place 23-27 June 2014, hosted by UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya (Resolution 16/1). It is intended to summarise the state of our knowledge on sources, fate and effects of marine plastics and microplastics, and describe approaches and potential solutions to address this multifaceted conundrum. Plastic litter in the ocean can be considered a ‘common concern of humankind’.

  • Key messages
  • Rationale for the report
  • Governance frameworks of relevance to marine plastic debris
  • Scope and structure of the report
  • Plastics

    Large-scale production of plastics began in the 1950s. Production increased rapidly responding to an increasing demand for manufactured goods and packaging to contain or protect foods and goods. This was accompanied by an increasing diversification of types and applications of synthetic polymer.

  • Sources of macro and microplastics
  • Distribution and fate
  • Impacts
  • Closing the loop
  • A selection of different types of measures
  • Risk assessment and guideline for selecting measures
  • Monitoring and assessment

    Obtaining representative samples of macro and microplastics in rivers can be problematic. For surface sampling of microplastics stationary or towed nets have been used. Alternatively, an underwater pump can be used to collect water which is then passed through a net (van der Wal et al. 2015). A floating sampler has been developed in Europe, for larger items (> 3.2 mm), by the organisation Waste Free Water. This is in two parts, with a surface net and a suspension net collecting at a depth of 0.2 to 0.7 m (van der Wal et al. 2015). Measuring the transport of material along the river bed has been undertaken using bottom nets designed for fishing (Mirrit et al. 2014). In addition floating booms have been deployed in rivers, harbours and other waterways to serve as litter traps. River flows can be very episodic, and the quantities of material transported may vary considerably on an hourly, weekly, seasonal or multi-year basis. In addition, flows are not constant across the cross-section of the river.

  • Summary of key conclusions
  • Summary of key research needs
  • Annexes
  • References
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