Fighting for Trash Free Seas®

Ending the flow of trash at the source

International Plastics Agreement

Working towards a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution

A volunteer helps pick up trash on the beach
© Gabriel Ortiz
Global plastic production and consumption has grown exponentially since the 1950s, with global plastics production projected to reach roughly 450 million tons by 2025. All this plastic waste is creating a crisis for our ocean and planet. An estimated 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean every year from land-based sources. In the absence of drastic intervention, scientists predict a nearly three-fold increase of ocean plastic inputs totaling 29 million metric tons annually by 2040.

In March 2022, the international community under the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) agreed to a resolution named: “End plastic pollution: Toward an internationally legally binding instrument,” which represents the first major global effort to address the plastic pollution crisis. This historic resolution is a triumph and the first major step in addressing the plastic pollution crisis.

A legally binding instrument is an enforceable agreement between countries. It is an important tool to tackle a global challenge like plastic pollution. In this case, the instrument under development can inform national environmental laws and policies governing the production, use, and recycling or disposal of plastic products worldwide.

There are many considerations that will go into the development of this agreement. Ocean Conservancy, as a leader on international efforts to combat ocean plastics, is working with governments and other key stakeholders to ensure the agreement addresses the full lifecycle of plastics.

We believe that an effective agreement should include the crucial policies and considerations listed below:

1. Source Reduction of Plastics

The science is clear: to address our plastic pollution crisis we must reduce the amount of plastic we produce and use. Eliminating some plastic items, such as unnecessary single-use plastics, would result in a significant reduction in plastic production (packaging represents 40% of plastic production annually), decrease contamination in the waste stream and would improve the health of our ocean by reducing the items that are most commonly found in the environment.

Plastic water bottle sits on the sand
© Keegan Callender

2. Include Ghost Gear

Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG, also known as “ghost gear”) is the largest source of plastic pollution in our ocean. Ghost gear has direct and crucial implications for global food security, fisheries sustainability, biodiversity preservation, coastal economies, and human health and livelihoods. Our Global Ghost Gear Initiative’s Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear lays out key policies we should put in place to address this issue.


3. Address Microplastics

Addressing microplastics should also be a priority as it is the most pervasive, mobile and easily distributed type of plastic pollution. We need to prioritize both elimination of primary microplastics (plastics intentionally produced at a small size fraction, such as cosmetic beads and glitter) and put in place policies to address known sources of secondary microplastics (those microplastics that are a result of degradation or shredding of larger plastic items such as synthetic fibers, fragments, tire wear particles and paint flakes).


4. Design for Circularity

It is important that we ensure plastic products that are deemed necessary are designed to be circular, which means they are intended to be reused (ideally hundreds of times) or recycled. Ocean Conservancy data shows that nearly 70% of plastics collected every year in the International Coastal Cleanup® are not recyclable. Upstream design is critical to facilitate collection, sorting and reuse. The current chemical or advanced recycling technologies are not a circular approach to plastics recycling because they do not transform plastics back into plastics (but into fuel) and create additional environmental and social harms.

Crab inside of a piece of plastic
© Tralee Chapman

5. Inclusion of Informal Sector Waste Collectors

Although ocean plastic pollution is a global challenge, its solution requires local action. Informal waste collectors or “waste pickers” are the frontline in the fight against ocean plastic pollution in many low-to-middle income economies. Informal sector waste collectors must be included in conversations about global systematic changes and their expertise incorporated to ensure national-level actions are just, inclusive and effective.

Download Ocean Conservancy’s vision for a strong international agreement on plastics here.

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