Marine plastic litter and microplastics



At its thirteenth meeting, the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention included activities on marine plastic litter and microplastics in the work programme of the Open-ended Working Group for the biennium 2018-2019.

At its eleventh meeting, the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) considered the report on possible options available under the Basel Convention to further address marine plastic litter and microplastics and took note of the information on activities related to marine plastic litter and microplastics undertaken by regional centres.

The OEWG adopted decision OEWG-11/8 on marine plastic litter and microplastics. In that decision, the OEWG:

1) Agreed that the draft elements set out in the annex to the decision should be a basis for a decision by COP-14 on further actions on marine plastic litter and microplastics. Parties and observers were invited to submit comments on the draft elements to the Secretariat by 31 October 2018.

2) Welcomed with appreciation the proposal submitted by Norway on the establishment of a Partnership on Plastic Wastes and recommended to the COP-14 the establishment of a partnership under the Basel Convention on plastic wastes that also addresses marine plastic litter and microplastics. Parties and others were invited to submit comments on the draft terms of reference of the partnership and suggestions on elements of the work programme of the partnership for the biennium 2020–2021 by 17 December 2018.

3) Took note of decision OEWG-11/7 on amendments to Annex IX to the Convention and the intention of Norway, as expressed the OEWG-11, to submit a proposal to amend Annex II to the Convention for consideration and possible adoption by the COP-14.

4) Requested the Secretariat to communicate decision OEWG-11/8 to the open-ended ad hoc expert group on marine litter and microplastics referred to in paragraph 10 of resolution 3/7 of the UNEA and to the UNEA-4.

International efforts

Marine plastic litter is an environmental problem occurring on a global scale today. The ubiquitous transboundary movement of marine plastics and microplastics is becoming a major concern as their property of durability makes their debris remain intact for long period of time throughout the ocean.

Global action and initiatives have been launched to address the marine pollution problem. The Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) has operated as a key actor since its launch in June 2012 at Rio+20 in Brazil, bringing together international agencies, governments, academia, the private sector, civil society and individuals. The Honolulu Strategy is a framework for a comprehensive and global collaborative effort to reduce the ecological, human health, and economic impacts of marine debris worldwide. At its second session, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted resolution 2/11 on marine plastic litter and microplastics stressing prevention and minimization of those waste along with environmentally sound waste management systems and clean-up actions.

See also: Sustainable Development Goal, Policy Brief on Goal 14

Relevance to and initiatives of the Basel Convention

The overarching objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes and “other wastes”, namely household waste and incinerator ash. Some plastics are listed as “hazardous wastes” under the Convention, and many household wastes may include plastics. The provisions of the Basel Convention pertaining to the minimization of the generation of wastes, their environmentally sound management as well as the control of their transboundary movement may therefore apply to plastics wastes.

In its resolution 2/7, UNEA emphasized the importance of the elaboration under and application of existing instruments to further the environmentally sound management of waste, including waste prevention, minimization and recovery, to address the underlying causes of marine litter. UNEA also recognized, in the preamble of its resolution 2/11, the importance of cooperation between UNEP and conventions and international instruments related to preventing and minimizing marine pollution from waste, including marine plastic litter, microplastics and associated chemicals and their adverse effects on human health and the environment, such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, the Basel Convention and the SAICM.

In December 2002, in relation to plastics, COP-6 adopted the Technical guidelines for the identification and environmentally sound management (ESM) of plastic wastes and for their disposal, mainly focusing on the technical aspects of the management of plastic wastes, with particular emphasis on their recycling.

In May 2013, COP-11 adopted the Framework for the ESM of hazardous wastes and other wastes (decision BC-11/1). A key strategic objective of strengthening the ESM of hazardous and other wastes is to pursue the prevention and minimization of hazardous waste and other waste generation at source, especially through supporting and promoting activities designed to reduce the hazard potential of hazardous and other wastes at the national level. The expert working group established by that decision has developed a number of guidance as well as a collection of practical tools to assist Parties and other stakeholders in ensuring ESM of hazardous and other wastes, known as “ESM Toolkit”.

In May 2017, COP-13 included in the work programme of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) for the biennium 2018-2019 the mandate to consider relevant options available under the Convention to further address marine plastic litter and micro-plastics (decision BC-13/17).

Furthermore, COP-13 established the Partnership on Household Waste (decision BC-13/14), through which the environmentally sound management of household wastes including plastics will be further explored.

COP-13 adopted Guidance to assist Parties in developing efficient strategies for achieving the prevention and minimization of the generation of hazardous and other wastes and their disposal (decision BC-13/3), in which plastic waste was highlighted as a key waste stream; and welcomed Draft practical manuals on extended producer responsibility and financing systems for environmentally sound management (decision BC-13/2).

COP-13 also adopted Guidance manual on how to improve the sea-land interface (decision BC-13/15) to ensure that wastes falling within the scope of MARPOL, once offloaded from a ship, are managed in an environmentally sound manner.

The regional and coordinating 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 (decisions BC-13/11 and SC-8/15).