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From Pollution to Solution: A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution

21 Oct 2021

Marine litter, including plastics and microplastics, is accumulating in the world’s oceans at an unprecedented rate. The volume of plastics currently in the oceans has been estimated at between 75 million and 199 million tons1. Found in sea floor sediments and on beaches, among many other locations globally, plastics are are becoming part of the Earth’s fossil record. Plastic pollution is one of the characteristics of the present geological era, the Anthropocene. A new marine microbial habitat has been designated the “plastisphere”.


This publication aims to provide a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution. The key findings include:


  • Marine litter, including plastics and microplastics, has grown drastically and is projected to more than double by 2030
  • Marine litter and plastics are a grave threat to all marine life and are influencing the climate
  • Human health and well-being are also at risk
  • The hidden costs of plastics for the global economy
  • Marine litter and plastics are threat multipliers
  • Half of marine litter and plastics comes from uncontrolled waste streams on land
  • Movement and accumulation of litter and plastics occurs over decades
  • Advances in technologies and growing citizen science activities are improving detection, but consistency of measurements remains a challenge
  • Plastic recycling rates are less than 10 per cent and plastics-related greenhouse gas emissions are significant but solutions are emerging
  • Progress is being made at all levels, with a potential global instrument in sight



Status: Completed

Type: Monograph

Author: UNEP

Year of publication: 2021

Publisher: UNEP

Place of publication: Nairobi

Tags: marine litter plastic pollution

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