Every year, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced, half of which is used to design single-use items such as shopping bags, cups and straws. At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and make up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Floating plastic debris are currently the most abundant items of marine litter.
The majority of marine plastics come from land-based sources, including urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, construction and illegal dumping. Ocean-based sources are derived mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture.
The bad news is that once released into our oceans, plastic never goes away. It does not biodegrade. It simply fragments into small particles, named micro- and nanoplastics under the influence of natural factors (solar UV radiation, wind, currents, etc).
Plastic pollution has a significant social, economic and ecological impact. Marine plastics threaten ocean health, human health, food safety and coastal tourism as well as contribute to climate change.
But the good news is that we can take action to turn these problems into solutions.
To better understand the extent of plastic pollution, IUCN has produced several analytical pieces of work and is supporting policy and programmatic action in both the Baltic and the Mediterranean seas. Although marine plastics are a global problem, they demand regional and local solutions that are tailored to the different sources and pathways of plastic to the ocean. With its Marine Plastics and Coastal Communities initiative, IUCN is now seeking to extend this programmatic approach to the Eastern and Southern Africa and Asia Pacific regions.