UN and Partners Launch Global Partnership on Marine Litter at Rio+20 Tue, Jun 19, 2012

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Rio de Janeiro / Nairobi, 19 June 2012 - Governments, industry representatives and UN bodies have backed a new partnership to tackle the damage caused by marine litter to the environment, livelihoods and human health.

The Global Partnership on Marine Litter, which will be led by the United Nations Environment Programmme (UNEP), was launched at a side event during the Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The Government of the Netherlands, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Plastics Pollution Coalition and a number of UN agencies, were among those to signal their support for the initiative.

It follows recommendations made by 64 countries at a UN meeting held in Manila earlier this year to step up global efforts to protect oceans from land-based pollution.

Despite ongoing efforts to prevent and reduce marine debris (such as plastic bottles or discarded fishing gear), there is evidence that the problem continues to grow - with significant impacts on biodiversity, health and livelihoods.

The new global partnership will act as a co-ordinating forum, bringing together diverse organizations working in the same field and encouraging governments, NGOs, scientists and academics to collaborate.

An online forum, managed by UNEP, will allow members of the partnership to share information and lessons learned on marine litter.

The new partnership builds on the Honolulu Strategy - a global framework for tackling marine litter backed by governments, members of the plastics industry, scientists, and other groups - which was presented at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in 2011.

In keeping with the Honololu Strategy, the global partnership will focus on reducing the amount and impacts of land- and sea-based litter and solid waste on the marine environment.

Overall, the new global partnership will work to achieve the following objectives:

  • Reduce the ecological, human health, and economic impacts of marine litter worldwide
  • Enhance international cooperation through the promotion and implementation of the Honolulu Strategy
  • Promote resource efficiency and economic development through waste prevention and recovering valuable materials from waste
  • Increase awareness on the sources and impacts of marine litter

"Marine litter affects communities and seas in every region of the world, and its negative impacts on biodiversity, fisheries and coastal economies are a significant barrier to sustainable development," said Vincent Sweeney, Co-ordinator of UNEP's Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), at the launch event.

"There are many solutions on the table, from curbing plastic bag use, to increasing recycling rates. What is clear, however, is that isolated action will not be enough. Working with a wide range of stakeholders, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter aims to collectively address the issue across national boundaries and develop effective responses that can be replicated and scaled up across the world."

The partnership is open to any local or national government, industry or business organization, NGO, civil society group, academic institution or individual that agrees to work towards the goals outlined above.

The partnership will also assess emerging issues relating to marine litter, such as microplastics. These are small particles made up of disintegrating plastic items or lost plastic pellets used by industry that are released into the ocean.

There is concern that microplastics may accumulate contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) or the pesticide DDT, which are linked to reproductive problems and other health risks.

Scientists are assessing whether such contaminants could eventually end up in the food chain, when microplastics are ingested by marine animals. At present, there remains uncertainty about the degree to which microplastics pose a threat to ecosystems and human health.  

Over 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter are estimated to reach our oceans each year, with most waste originating from land. Trends suggest that the use of certain types of plastics is set to increase.

Individuals in North America and Western Europe, for example, currently use around 100kg of plastic materials per capita annually. This is likely to increase to around 140kg by 2015.

Research shows that an estimated 267 marine species worldwide are affected by entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris, including 86 percent of all sea turtles species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species.

Notes to Editors

More information on UNEP's work on marine litter is available at: http://www.gpa.unep.org/gpa-pollutant-source-categories/marine-litter.html

The Honolulu Strategy is available at:   http://www.gpa.unep.org/component/docman/doc_download/233-honolulu-strategy.html?Itemid=139

For more information on the partnership please visit:


For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, Acting Director, UNEP Division of Communication and Public Information and Spokesperson, Tel: +55 11 6593 8058 / +254 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Bryan Coll, UNEP Newsdesk (Nairobi), Tel. +254 20 762 3088 / +254 731 666 214, E-mail: unepnewsdesk@unep.org

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