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How can we reduce marine litter?

The seas and oceans are increasingly becoming the waste dump of the planet. 

Plastic waste forms 80 % of the enormous waste patches in the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, with fatal consequences for numerous sea species. The European Commission is asking for opinions on how we can best address this problem. The public consultation is open until 18 December 2013.

Approximately 10 million tonnes of litter end up in the world's oceans and seas each year. The term "marine litter" covers a range of materials which have been deliberately discarded, or accidentally lost on shore or at sea, and it includes materials that are carried out to sea from land, rivers, drainage and sewerage systems, or the wind. It often includes persistent, manufactured and processed solid materials such as plastic, glass and metal.

The European Commission is exploring options to set an EU-wide quantitative reduction headline target for marine litter, as called for in the recently-agreed 7th Environment Action Programme. The marine litter consultation is looking for additional input from citizens and stakeholders. Your views will help to identify the appropriate level of ambition for such a target. The questionnaire contains a series of actions that could be undertaken by consumers, retailers, the plastics industry, the shipping and fisheries industries, NGOs, local and national authorities and EU policy-makers to reduce the presence and impact of marine litter. These options include avoiding the use of single use plastic bags and plastic bottles, awareness-raising, clean-up actions, and setting reduction targets at national or local levels. Have your say at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/marine_litter_en.htm

Next Steps

The consultation is open until 18 December 2013. Based on the outcome of the current consultation and in conjunction with a review of the targets of the Waste Framework Directive, Packaging Directive and Landfill Directive, the Commission aims to develop an initial headline reduction target for marine litter. Such a target could be included in a wider Communication on waste, to be adopted in 2014. The public consultation will also explore the potential for additional measures which could contribute to a further substantive reduction in the future.


At the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development, a global commitment was made to take action to “achieve significant reductions in marine debris to prevent harm to the coastal and marine environment” by 2025. In the EU context, this commitment is further elaborated in the 7th Environment Action Programme, which calls for a “Union-wide quantitative reduction headline target for marine litter” to be set. The Commission is now working to turn this commitment into tangible actions.

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