Solid Waste and Marine Litter Management


Latest News on our Solid Waste and Marine Litter Activities

Why is Marine Litter our problem?

Few sources of pollution affect a wider area or a larger number of people than marine litter or debris.

This environmental, human health and aesthetic problem can lead to serious economic losses for coastal communities, the tourism sector, shipping and fishing industries.

The Wider Caribbean region will suffer substantial economic losses if current trends in environmental degradation continue including through pollution from solid waste and marine litter.

One of the particular challenges faced in our region is poorly developed solid waste management infrastructure.  This results in pollution of inland waterways (including streams and gullies), as well as rivers, coastal communities, and marine ecosystems.  

Improving marine litter management will therefore also require improving systems for solid waste collection, transport, recycling, re-use and final disposal.

According to the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), land-based sources account for 60 – 80% of the world’s marine pollution[1]. This is consistent with work undertaken in the Caribbean from beach surveys and clean-ups, indicating that the dominant source of marine litter is land-based in origin.[2] 

Increases in solid waste generation from land and marine-based sources and the slow rate of degradation of many discarded materials including plastics, are leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea, on the sea floor and coastal shores. Due to the increase in generation, waste plastics are becoming a major component in solid waste requiring urgent action.

Plastic waste is the third largest contributor to municipal and industrial waste in cities. Due to increasing demand for use in plastic packaging, water bottles and other goods, global plastic production rose from 204 million tonnes in 2002 to 299 million tonnes in 2013[3]. This increase has turned into a major challenge for local authorities responsible for solid waste management and sanitation.

Plastic marine litter has the potential to persist in the marine environment for long periods, to travel considerable distances, and to accumulate in habitats far from its point of origin. This makes it a growing transboundary global problem that recognises no national borders and spreads from coasts to open oceans and Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

Solid Waste, Marine Litter and in particular Marine Plastics is one of our priority ares of focus.  To address this problem will require global, regional and national platforms of action including implementation of projects and activities to prevent, reduce and control pollution from solid waste, marine litter and plastics. 

We continue to identify new sources of funding, partners and technical assistance to assist with the development and implementation of these projects and activities.  We also welcome new public-private partnerships to enable greater effectiveness in solid waste, marine litter and plastics management in the region. 

Our recent press releases and news stories have highlighted why we need to address marine litter and solid waste as a a high priority.

Work Plan 2017-2018:

Caribbean Platform for Marine Litter Management

UN Environment Caribbean Environment Programme as co-host of the Regional Platform for Marine Litter with the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) is working to support the Global Partnership for Marine Litter and to implement the Caribbean Regional Action Plan for Marine Litter Management.  

Five initial project concepts have been developed and are in various stages of implementation:

  1. Piloting marine litter reduction strategies for major Caribbean cultural/musical/sporting events;
  2. Links between marine litter and the prevalence of mosquito-borne public health concerns;
  3. Occurrence of micro-plastic in the intestinal tract of commercially exploited fish from Grenada;
  4. Innovations and cost analysis of options for marine litter action; and
  5. Regional assessment of marine litter initiatives in the Caribbean. 

We continue to work with our partners to identify funding to expand these pilot projects and activities throughout the region. 

These activities will also consider existing guidelines under the Basel Convention for the for the environmentally sound management of hazardous waste, UN Environment’s Global Partnership on Marine Litter under the Global Programme of Action, UN Environment's Global Partnership on Solid Waste, and the MARPOL Convention of the Control of Ship-Generated Wastes.

We will also support through our Regional Centre for the Oil Spills Protocol, the designation of the Caribbean Sea as a Special Area under Annex V of the MARPOL Convention dealing with the discharge of garbage from ships, and other relevant multilateral agreements and initiatives focused on Sustainable Consumption and Production.

Trash Free Waters Partnership - International 

This initiative will help Jamaica and Panama to control, reduce and prevent their land-based sources of trash/solid waste from entering waterways and polluting their coastal and marine environment by bringing stakeholders together to identify priority needs and develop projects and activities.

Jamaica and Panama are Contracting Parties to the LBS Protocol. The successful implementation of the proposed projects and activities will therefore support both countries in meeting their obligations under the LBS Protocol to take measures to prevent, reduce, and control pollution of the Convention area.

In collaboration with the US EPA, we will promote synergies and coordination between various ongoing solid waste and marine litter projects and activities in both countries, and assist them to develop a more integrated approach to solid waste and marine litter management.

Specific emphasis on local communities will be on local communities. These community-based efforts will be supported by the US Peace Corps which will train its volunteers in Jamaica and Panama in the Trash Free Waters Approach so they can train and help their counterparts implement small scale projects at the community level. 

We will guide the process and work with NGOs, CBOs and other stakeholders to help implement these solid waste/marine litter management projects in Jamaica and Panama while promoting upscaling and replication in the region. The partner agencies will also work to promote a more consistent message to stakeholders and the general public concerning solid waste and marine litter management.

This initiative builds upon UN Environment’s Resource Efficiency efforts in the region to reduce waste generation in key sectors and promote the use of sound waste management tools with government agencies. 

[1] GESAMP 1991, The State of the Marine Environment, and UNEP, 2006, The State of the Marine Environment: Regional Assessments

[2] UNEP 2006, Marine Litter in the Wider Caribbean.

[3] Plastics – the facts 2014/2015, Plastics Europe, Brussels, Belgium.

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