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Marine Litter is a Planetary Crisis – warns UNEP as 200 countries pledge to tackle marine litter

“Sound waste management must be assigned the highest priority” agreed 200 nations at the third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3 at Nairobi, Kenya) – echoing calls from ISWA – International Solid Waste Association.

11 Dec 2017 -

UNEA3 represents the world's highest-level decision-making body on environmental matters. This year, the Assembly put the spotlight on pollution as an urgent human health crisis.

According to ISWA’s President, Antonis Mavropoulos, “The Ministerial Declaration approved in Nairobi is remarkable, as it was a consensus among the world's highest-level body on environmental matters, and very important for the future of our planet and the human health, as it sets a commitment to deal with this global health emergency posed by unmanaged waste worldwide.”

Dr Costas Velis, Chair of ISWA’s Marine Litter Task Force, from the School of Civil Engineering at University of Leeds, UK, presented the work which details the links between unsound waste management and the generation of plastic marine litter. ISWA’s contribution to the dialogue was part of the high-level debate was initiated by Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway alongside representatives from environmental ministries of China and Nigeria and ISWA’s National Member representative from Norway, CEO of Avfall Norge, Nancy Strand.
According to Dr Velis, “UNEA3 made clear that sound waste management is a global environment priority with profound potential to put an end to marine litter. UNEA’s resolutions appeal for a dramatic and fundamental change in the provision of waste management infrastructure in the Global South.”

The resolution (UNEP/EA.3/L.20) made very specific recommendations at a global level, which are fully aligned with the evidence and recommendations presented by the Task Force, including: 

  • to “develop and implement action plans for preventing marine litter and microplastics, encouraging resource efficiency, including prevention and increasing collection and recycling rates of plastic waste and re-design and re-use of products, materials and avoiding the unnecessary use of plastic and plastic containing chemicals of particular concern where appropriate.”
  • to “prioritize policies and measures at appropriate scale, to avoid marine litter and microplastics entering the marine environment.”

Why are UN Environment assigning the highest priority to solid waste management in combating marine litter?


ISWA’s Marine Litter Task Force report (Prevent Marine Plastic Litter - Now!) provides detailed evidence on the links between a lack of infrastructure and inappropriate waste management practices and the generation of marine litter. The only way to turn the tide on marine litter is to tackle the problem at source. This means providing waste collection infrastructure for the 2-billion people who currently live without . Specifically, sound waste and resource management can lead the fight against plastic marine litter pollution if three key areas are prioritized:

  • Provide waste collection services for all
  • Close open dumpsites near waterbodies
  • Stop littering and fly-tipping

“The momentum shows that the messages from the new ISWA report must be heard and implemented all over the world. This way we are calling everyone to play an active role towards sustainable waste management, as it is the only way to keep plastics out of the oceans - and we have to do it now!”, concludes ISWA’s President.

ISWA is working with all stakeholders across the international community in all parts of the world to bring an end to the global waste crisis – and therefore preventing marine litter at source.



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