Towards Osaka Blue Ocean Vision - G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter

the European Union

Actions and Progress on Marine Plastic Litter
Last Update : 2021/08/05

Policy framework

National Action Plan

EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (2018)

– Brief description:

Emphasis on prevention of litter from both land- and sea-based sources is the cornerstone of EU policies against plastic pollution of oceans and the seas. Clean-up actions can be meaningful when litter accumulations create serious risks for marine or coastal biodiversity and habitats or negative socioeconomic effects. The EU is furthermore committed to close collaboration with its neighbours within the four Regional Seas Conventions around Europe and with other non-EU countries in global fora such as UN, G20 and G7.

The EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (2018) is the first EU-wide policy framework adopting a material-specific life-cycle approach integrating design, use, reuse and recycling. It also aims at an increasing the uptake of alternative materials where evidence clearly shows that they are more sustainable compared to the ones based on fossil resources. This supports efforts on decarbonisation and creating additional opportunities for growth. As part of the Strategy, the EU adopted the Single-Use Plastic Directive (2019), targeting the top 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas as well as fishing gear containing plastics and the Port Reception Facilities Directive (2019), aiming to reduce the discharges from ship generated waste, including from fishing vessels.

The European Commission is drafting a legislation to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products, e.g. in cosmetics or detergents, and has started preparatory work to reduce emissions of microplastics from other sources, such as tyres, textiles and pre-production plastic pellets taking into account inter alia initiatives like work being carried out in OSPAR Convention on pellet losses. Industry has also started the production of bio-based and biodegradable alternative materials and fibres in tyres and textiles thus supporting the substitution of materials based on fossil resources.

Legal framework

Legislation on waste and Marine Strategy Framework Directive

– Brief description:

The EU’s long tradition of legislation on waste (starting in the 1970s and over the years developed into a comprehensive body of legislation) plays an important role in preventing marine litter. As part of the shift towards a circular economy, an important review of the waste legislation took place and the ensuing legislative proposals adopted in 2018 introduced the world’s most ambitious waste-management targets and strengthened provisions on waste prevention. Today EU’s waste policy includes:

– Horizontal legislation setting the main definitions and principles

  • Laws on how waste should be treated

– Legislation on specific products or so-called waste streams (many of which will be further modernised in the years to come)

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008/56/EC) was the first EU legal instrument to explicitly address marine litter; it requires “Good Environmental Status” for marine litter to be achieved by 2020, i.e. that “properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment”. Assessment of the status, target setting, monitoring, reporting and implementation of measures related to marine litter and microlitter are carried out in accordance with relevant MSFD provisions and have been further specified within a Decision by the European Commission (2017/848/EU). The Commission assessment of the measures submitted by the EU Member States was published in July 2018 [1] ; in 2020 the Commission published a report on MSFD implementation [2] MSFD activities against marine litter are supported by the MSFD Technical Group on Marine Litter [3] , bringing together experts from Member States, Regional Sea Conventions, NGOs, umbrella organisations and scientific project leads. It acts as an advisory group to the policy process and links science with policy, providing guidance and recommendations on relevant issues such as monitoring methodologies, harm caused by marine litter and sources of marine litter. Importantly, it has been tasked to develop baseline quantities and threshold values for marine litter and microlitter pursuant to the abovementioned Commission Decision. The EU Marine Beach Litter Baselines report [4] was published early 2020. In September, EU Member States agreed on a beach litter threshold value of 20 items per 100 m of beach, More threshold values in relation to marine litter and microliter (including microplastics) are being developed.Other EU instruments that help tackle marine litter include legislation on Port Reception Facilities for the delivery of waste from ships (2019), the Single-Use Plastic Directive focusing on most frequently found marine litter (including fishing gear containing plastic) (2019), the EU’s International Ocean Governance Agenda (2016) and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

As a follow-up of the Single-Use Plastic Directive, the Commission also adopted a decision on a standardization request to the European Committee for Standardisation as regards circular design of fishing gear (2021) and a decision laying down the format for reporting data and information on fishing gear placed on the market and waste fishing gear collected in Member States (2021).

The European Commission also adopted its Zero Pollution Action Plan in May 2021 where, among other things, includes a target of reducing by 50% plastic litter at sea and of 30% micro plastics released into the environment by 2030.


Indicators for marine litter occurrence and impact in the marine environment are provided through Descriptor 10 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive . It specifies criteria for litter on the coastline, in the water surface layer and on the seafloor, as well as microlitter in all matrices and impacts of litter through ingestion, entanglement and other adverse effects. Baselines are derived as part of comparable assessment frameworks that are used to prioritise actions and to measure the success of mitigation measures.

Data on marine litter concentration are available through the EMODnet platform . This includes a complete set of data on litter on beaches of EU Member States and some neighbourhood countries, normalised to common standards.

Work on normalising data on floating, seabed and microlitter concentrations is underway. A target threshold value for beach litter (i.e. 20 litter items/100 m of coastline), has been established (see the JRC Technical Report on A European Threshold Value and Assessment Method for Macro Litter on Coastlines), which is estimated to reduce harm from beach litter to a sufficiently precautionary level.




Prevention and reduction of plastic waste generation

Charge for single-use plastic products (e.g. shopping bags, straws)

The Plastic Bags Directive (2015) and the Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (Single-Use Plastic Directive) (2019)

Targeted products:

Food containers, EPS food and beverage containers, cups for beverages, cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, stirrers, straws, balloon sticks, balloons, packets, wrappers, beverage containers and bottles, tobacco product filters, sanitary towels, wet wipes, plastic carrier bags and fishing gear.

Brief description:

The Plastic Bags Directive requires Member States to take measures to achieve a ‘sustained reduction in the consumption’ of lightweight plastic carrier bags, such as national reduction targets and/or economic instruments (e.g. fees, taxes) and marketing restrictions (bans), provided that the latter are proportionate and non-discriminatory. The Directive sets targets that annual consumption would not exceed 90 bags per person by 2019, 40 by 2025, and/or that by end of 2018 such bags would not be free of charge at the point of sale. Compared to the baseline scenario (2010) this is a 50% reduction in consumption by 2019 and a 80% reduction by 2025.

The Single-Use Plastic Directive includes the following measures:

i. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes under the principle ‘the polluter pays’ to ensure that producers will cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, data gathering and awareness raising for the following single-use plastic products and fishing gear containing plastic: tobacco products with filters, drink bottles, packets and wrappers, wet wipes, drinks cups (including their cover and lids), food and beverage containers, balloons, and lightweight carrier bags;

ii. Product design measures for drink bottles related to tethered caps and lids, and a binding target of at least 25% of recycled plastic for PET beverage bottles from 2025 onwards and 30% recycled content for all plastic bottles by 2030;

iii. Consumption reduction measures for single-use plastic versions of drinks cups (including covers and lids), and food containers;

iv. A ban of single-use plastic versions of cotton bud sticks, balloon sticks, cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers; and beverage containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene (including their caps/covers and lids);

v. A general ban on oxo-degradable products;

vi. A 90% separate collection target for waste from single-use plastic bottles either by Deposit Refund Schemes or improved EPR schemes by 2029 (interim target of 77% by 2025);

vii. Marking requirements for sanitary towels, wet wipes, tampons and tampon applicators, tobacco products with filters and cups for beverages, indicating how waste should be disposed of, presence of plastic in the product and resulting negative environmental impact.

viii. Member States with marine waters to set minimum annual collection rates of waste fishing gear containing plastic.

The Single-Use product Directive was to be transposed by EU Member States on 3 July 2021. It is too soon to see an effect.

Actions for encouraging sustainable / circular product design

Follow up to the Single-use Plastic Directive

Brief description:

As a follow-up of the Single-Use Plastic Directive, the Commission also adopted a decision on a standardization request to the European Committee for Standardisation as regards circular design of fishing gear (2021) and a decision laying down the format for reporting data and information on fishing gear placed on the market and waste fishing gear collected in Member States (2021). These two decisions are expected to increase the positive effect to be produced by the establishment of extended producer responsibility schemes and the creation of port reception facilities for marine litter provided for by the Single-Use Plastic Directive and the Port Reception Facilities Directive respectively.

We see a positive improvement from last two years

Regulation on microplastics

Legislation on microplastics intentionally added to products

Brief description:

The European Commission is drafting a legislation to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products , e.g. in cosmetics paints or detergents. It requested the European Chemicals Agency to review the scientific basis for considering a restriction under REACH. The European Chemicals Agency said that “health & environmental risks justify an EU-wide restriction”. ECHA scientific committees assessed the measure and adopted their opinion. The proposed EU-wide restriction would cover intentionally added microplastics in multiple applications including agriculture, horticulture, cosmetic products, paints, coatings, detergents, maintenance products, infill material in artificial turfs, medical and pharmaceutical applications.

As a step further, in the March 2020 new Circular Economy Action Plan , the European, Commission committed to address the presence of microplastics in the environment by addressing also unintentional releases of microplastics by developing labelling, standardisation, certification and regulatory measures. Where reduction of the emissions at source is not possible, measures at later stages of the life-cycle will be envisaged. This action was launched in 2021. The Commission will also look at harmonising methods for measuring unintentionally releases of microplastics, and at closing the gaps on scientific knowledge related to the risks and occurrence of microplastics in the environment, drinking water and foods. So far, the sources that have received the most attention are also the largest contributors in today’s European context i.e. 1) synthetic textiles during their entire life-cycle 2) tyres related to tyre abrasion and 3) pre-production plastic pellets during their entire life-cycle.

We see a positive improvement from last two years



Environmentally sound waste management

Enforcement of proper waste management system

EU Waste Framework Directive

Brief description:

In relation to waste management, the EU Member States have implemented effective separate (household) collection schemes and have built in economic incentives for better waste treatment (e.g. landfill/ incineration charges) as well as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes.

In May 2018, the EU revised its waste legislation to make it fit for the future. In the context of the prevention of waste, the revised EU Waste Framework Directive requires Member States to identify products that are the main sources of littering, notably in natural and marine environment, and take appropriate measures to prevent and reduce litter from such products. The Directive also requires Member States to develop and support information campaigns to raise awareness about waste prevention and littering. In the future, Member States management plans will have to contain measures to combat and prevent all forms of littering and to clean up all types of litter. With regard to enforcement they are required to take the necessary measures to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled managmenent of waste, including littering.

We see a positive improvement from last two years

Prevention of littering, illegal dumping and unintentional leakage of waste into the ocean

Directive on Port Reception Facilities(EU) 2019/883

Brief description:

The Directive covers all waste from ships, with a special focus on addressing marine litter originating from shipping, including from the fishing and recreational sectors. To this end, the Directive provides for a mix of incentives and enforcement measures to maximise waste delivery on shore to adequate port reception facilities, where the waste should be properly managed (e.g. through separate collection). The Directive strengthens the financial incentive for delivery by providing for a 100% indirect fee for garbage (MARPOL Annex V waste) to be paid irrespectively of volumes delivered. This fee gives all ships a right to deliver all garbage waste, including waste fishing gear and passively fished waste, without facing any further additional fees.

This should result in a robust framework to tackle (plastic) waste from ships and to ensure that port reception facilities are available for the management of this waste in line with the principles of the Circular Economy.






Cleanup of marine plastic litter

Collection of scattered waste on beach

World Clean-up Day 2018

Brief description:

On the occasion of World Clean-up Day in September 2018, some 50 EU delegations and representations joined NGOs, embassies, schools and volunteer networks to organise beach clean activities across the world. A year later, over 80 countries took part in the #EUBeachCleanup campaign. Such activities took also place in 2020.


3.3.2 Removal of plastic litter from the ocean

Port Reception Facilities Directive

Brief description:

The Port Reception Facilities Directive provides for adequate port facilities. enabling the reception of marine litter passively fished at sea by fishers with port fees independent of the amount brought ashore

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund provides financial support to fishing for litter




Promotion of innovative solutions

Policy actions for encouraging plastic alternatives (e.g. biodegradable plastics, circular product design – including use of recycled materials or closed loop recycling and so on’)

Commission Implementing Decision of 10.2.2021 on a standardization request to the European Committee for Standardisation as regards circular design of fishing gear in support of Directive (EU) 2019/904

Brief description:

The standard for circular design of fishing gear should provide the level playing field for organizations to develop higher quality and lower environmental impact fishing gear that is easily reused, repaired, re-manufactured, and recycled at the end of life stage, and should provide organizations the opportunity to act sustainably for healthier planet.

Names of actions:

Biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics

Brief description:

The 2020 new Circular Economy Action Plan has confirmed the intention to develop an EU policy framework for biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics, as a follow up action to the 2018 Plastics Strategy. In particular, the following sustainability challenges should be addressed: 1) Sourcing, labelling and use of biobased plastics (BBP), based on assessing where the use of biobased feedstock results in genuine environmental benefits, going beyond reduction in using fossil resources; 2) Use of biodegradable and compostable plastics (BDCP), based on an assessment of the applications where such use can be beneficial to the environment, and the criteria for such applications. Labelling a product as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ should not mislead consumers to dispose of it in a way that causes plastic littering or pollution due to unsuitable environmental conditions or insufficient time for biodegradation. The European Commission has started preparatory work in view of this framework, which is due in 2022.


Public-private partnerships for creating and implementing innovative solution

Plastics Circularity Multiplier group

Brief description:

Twenty innovation projects teamed up to support the EU efforts to steer the plastics industry into the circular economy. The recently formed Plastics Circularity Multiplier group will share resources and expertise to enhance the impact of the projects receiving funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme. More specifically, the Plastics Circularity Multiplier group will communicate to policymakers, the public and industry on a range of EU-funded innovations on plastics.



European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform

Commission Implementing Decision of 10.2.2021 on a standardization request to the European Committee for Standardisation as regards circular design of fishing gear in support of Directive (EU) 2019/904

Brief description:

The European Circular Economy Stakeholders Platform is a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee. It is an online platform to exchange best practices, knowledge and strategies to accelerate the transition towards the circular economy. As a place for knowledge, the platform features different contributions from stakeholders: good practices, national, regional and local strategies, studies and reports on the Circular Economy and commitments. In the section “good practices”, stakeholders are able to submit directly their experiences to the platform. The sections on national, regional and local strategies, on knowledge and on voluntary commitments feature examples of the type of contribution we wish to collect. Many projects and initiatives on plastics, including their alternatives, can be found in the Platform’s database, which is being continuously updated.



Education and awareness raising

Education system for encouraging public awareness on MPL issues

Names of actions:

Network of European Blue Schools

Brief description:

The Network of European Blue Schools is an initiative of EU4Ocean, the European Ocean Coalition that connects diverse organisations, projects and people contributing to ocean literacy and the sustainable management of the ocean. EU4Ocean is the place where new ideas and joint actions come to life to make a bigger change. Supported by the European Commission, this bottom-up inclusive initiative aims at uniting the voices of Europeans to make the ocean a concern of everyone.

This Network of European Blue Schools aims to inspire teacher, school director or staff of education services, to challenge their students, from kindergarten, primary, lower and upper secondary, technical or vocational schools, to develop a “Find the blue” project that links them to the ocean or the sea. By successfully completing the project and sharing its results, schools will receive the European Blue School label.


Awareness raising campaigns related to MPL

National level:

Awareness raising campaign

Brief description:

The European Commission launched an awareness raising campaign to highlight the role of citizens in combatting plastic pollution and marine litter. Together with the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners, the Commission coordinates a global network of aquariums to raise public awareness about plastic pollution. Leading by example, the European Commission has also phased out all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in all its buildings and at all meetings.

The EU not only finances dedicated projects focused on awareness-raising but also requires dissemination and communication activities in almost all EU-funded projects against litter




Monitoring & Scientific research on marine plastic litter

Actions for encouraging monitoring / scientific research on plastic flows and ocean surface microplastics

EU Research and Innovation

Brief description:

Through the EU Research and Innovation Programmes Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) the European Union has funded a number of projects to prevent marine litter and reduce its impact as well as to increase its knowledge base and inform citizens, for example
CLAIM , GOJELLY , TOPIOS , SeaChange , ResponSeable , EUROqCHARM , SEALIVE , Bio-Plastics Europe, MAELSTROM , In-No-Plastic , and LABPLAS .

In the new Research and Innovation Programme (2021-2027), Horizon Europe, specific area for research on seas, oceans and inland waters, and a dedicated Mission, are envisaged for strengthening knowledge and understanding in order to protect, restore and sustainably manage marine, inland and coastal ecosystems and prevent pollution, including marine litter.

Moreover, through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the EU is financing projects to prevent and fight marine litter, supporting concrete methodologies and technologies for reducing the volume and harmfulness of sea-based sources of marine litter and for removing and/or recycling it in an environmentally sound and efficient way. These are, for example:

MarGnet ( )


NetTag ( )




Engagement in international/regional level actions for encouraging monitoring / scientific research on plastic flows and ocean surface microplastics

Brief description:

Around the EU, the four Regional Sea Conventions (in Mediterranean, Northeast Atlantic, Baltic and the Black Sea) developed and implemented, with EU technical and financial support, plans against marine litter;

G7 (in 2015) and G20 (in 2017) also adopted Action Plans against marine litter. Regional plans and initiatives against marine litter exist (Southeast and Northwest Pacific, East Asian Seas) or are under development (Persian Gulf, NE Pacific, Arctic) also outside the EU.

The EU finances projects in its neighbourhood that provide technical assistance to stakeholders, and promotes regional cooperation (Mediterranean and Black Sea) and the Commission services are working on large projects that will contribute to marine litter reduction internationally, for example in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and South America (in the order of EUR800 million, for the period 2014-17).

In May 2019, the EU played a central role to achieve international decision-making on trans-boundary movements of most plastic waste subject to the controls of the Basel Convention. The new rules (which will enter into force in 2021) will improve controls on exports and imports of plastic waste. Countries on the receiving end will be able to refuse foreign shipments of mixed and unsorted plastic waste. It is important to stress that the EU has stricter rules than the Basel Convention: this means that, from 2021, it will be prohibited for the EU to export plastic waste covered by the Basel Convention to countries outside the OECD. The EU is signatory of the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine environment and Coastal Region of the Mediterranean.


Best practices

National level

(a) Comprehensive approach to plastic production, use and disposal in the EU’s Plastic Strategy as part of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan

(b) Binding legislation for monitoring and assessing marine litter, for defining acceptable thresholds, setting targets and for taking measures to reduce quantities of litter and harm from litter

(c) Integrated approach covering all sources of plastic litter and microplastics

(d) Legislation on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, targeting the top 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas as well as fishing gear containing plastics

(e) Legislation on port reception facilities to reduce the discharges from ship generated waste, including from fishing vessels

(f) Establishment of baselines for marine litter quantities in the coastal and marine environment

(g) Work towards the establishment of regulatory thresholds to prevent harm from litter in the marine coastal environment, including socio-economic aspects

(h) International and regional approach, coordination with neighbouring countries and third countries

Further information

– A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy:

– Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (SUP Directive):

  • International Ocean Governance : an agenda for the future of our oceans

  • Directive on port reception facilities:

  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive:

  • Good Environmental Status – Marine Litter:

  • Revision of the Waste Legislation:

  • EU threshold value for macro litter on coastlines

– Commission Implementing Decision of 10.2.2021 on a standardization request to the European Committee for Standardisation as regards circular design of fishing gear in support of Directive (EU) 2019/904

– Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/958 of 31 May 2021 laying down the format for reporting data and information on fishing gear placed on the market and waste fishing gear collected in Member States and the format for the quality check report in accordance with Articles 13(1)(d) and 13(2) of Directive (EU) 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council

Contact details

Luca Marmo (Mr)

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