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

the United Kingdom

Actions and Progress on Marine Plastic Litter
Last Update : 2020/06/18

Policy framework

1. 25 Year Environment Plan

The 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment sets out how to improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and tackling marine plastic litter. Measures taken since launching the plan in January 2018 include:

  1. Setting out plans to ban plastic drinking straws, cotton buds and stirrers and extend the GBP0.05 plastic bag charge, and overhauling the waste system with a comprehensive Resources and Waste Strategy to reduce plastic waste
  2. Agriculture Bill brought before Parliament to introduce a fairer, more sustainable system of environmental land management
  3. Commitment to plans for the first Environment Bill in 20 years
  4. Safeguarding forests and woodlands by starting the creation of a Northern Forest and appointing a Tree Champion
  5. Protection of precious wildlife habitats by launching a review to strengthen and enhance England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  6. Protection of  the marine environment by launching the Fisheries Bill, introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads and consulting on 41 new Marine Conservation Zones
  7. Combatting the illegal wildlife trade through introducing one of the world’s toughest ivory bans and hosting the global Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London


2. Resources and Waste Strategy for England

  1. In December 2018 he UK published the Resources and Waste Strategy, an ambitious document that sets out how to preserve the UK’s stock of material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards a more circular economy.  
  2. The Strategy outlines plans to take action at each stage of the product lifecycle to encourage producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products; reduce demand for single-use plastic; and make it easier for people to recycle.
  3. The UK wants to increase the quantity and quality of material collected, which is why it has an approach is focused on increasing the supply and demand for secondary materials to be recycled in the UK and reduce the need to export materials for recycling.   
  4. In general, the UK prefers to help people and companies make the right choice, rather than banning items outright. There may, however, be times when a ban is appropriate as part of a wider strategic approach to reduce the use of unnecessary single-use plastic.


3. UK Marine Strategy

The objective of the UK Marine Strategy reflects the UK’s vision for ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’, by helping to deliver key international obligations and commitments to protect and preserve the marine environment under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 (to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development), the OSPAR North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Strategy applies an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities. In doing so, it seeks to keep the collective pressure of human activities within levels compatible with the achievement of Good Environmental Status (GES).

  1. The Marine Strategy Regulations (2010) requires the UK to take action to achieve or maintain GES in its seas by 2020. 
  2. The Regulations transpose the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) into UK law and require the production of a “Marine Strategy” for all UK waters and that the approach is coordinated across all four UK Administrations. It also requires cooperation with other countries sharing the UK’s seas. 


4. 2050 Maritime Strategy

This is the UK government’s vision and ambitions for the future of the British maritime sector. Through this strategy the UK is committed to working with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to tackle marine plastic litter. The UK has been actively working at the IMO to identify opportunities for improvement, particularly within MARPOL, which has resulted in an IMO Study on Marine Plastic Litter from Ships, International Regulatory Framework and an Action Plan.


5. British-Irish Council

The British-Irish Council was established as part of the multi-party agreement reached in Belfast on 10 April 1998. Its membership comprises representatives from the Irish Government; UK Government; Scottish Government; Northern Ireland Executive; Welsh Government; Isle of Man Government; Government of Jersey and Government of Guernsey. A summit was held in February 2019 which highlighted a number of marine environment issues that were of concern to all administrations including: tackling marine litter; marine biodiversity and Marine Protected Areas; and how to address ocean acidification. During this summit, Ministers agreed to ensure meaningful and swift action is taken to tackle marine litter around British and Irish islands and emphasised the upmost importance of this issue.

BIC has committed to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution” by 2025 as required by UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water. 

Ministers have identified three different areas where they could collaborate further to ensure progress on this issue: establishing a system to facilitate the recycling of end-of-life fishing gear; co-operative working to further reduce the loss of pre-production plastics across the supply chain; and improving educational materials and modules on marine litter for young people and the fishing industry.


6. Commonwealth Blue Charter & Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to co-operate and collaborate to solve ocean-related problems and meet commitments for sustainable ocean development. To create change on the global stage, under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu are working together to lead an Action Group – the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) – focused on tackling marine plastic pollution.


7. DFID Waste Pilot Programme and Technical Assistance Facility (TAF)

This three-year programme of up to GBP13 million is part of wider UK Government efforts to address the problem of marine plastic pollution. This project will provide technical assistance and practical support to a number of poorer Commonwealth countries to improve waste management, to reduce marine plastic pollution. Specifically, the programme will provide;

  1. Up to GBP10m to support developing countries through a Technical Assistance Facility (TAF) who want to work with the UK and others to tackle plastic waste in the oceans under the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance. 
  2. Up to GBP3m to pilot improved waste management approaches in cities in developing Commonwealth countries. The programme commenced in June 2018 and run until May 2021.


8. BEIS Research and Innovation Framework 

The Framework, owned by the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will provide a platform and overarching structure for bringing together governments, industry, researchers and practitioners from across the Commonwealth to work together to tackle the issue of marine plastic pollution.


25 Year Environment Plan

  • Increased assistance to developing nations tackle pollution and reduce plastic waste, including through UK Aid.
  • Work through the UN, G7 and G20 to tackle marine plastics pollution at an international level. 
  • Work with the International Maritime Organization to address the control and prevention of ship-source pollution.


Resources and Waste Strategy for England

Specific commitments to tackling plastic pollution in the Strategy include:

Invoking the polluter pays principle and extending producer responsibility for packaging 

  • Introducing a deposit return scheme (DRS) to drive up recycling of an estimated 3 billion plastic bottles (subject to consultation)
  • Introducing a consistent set of recyclable materials for collection in England to drive up recycling rates (subject to consultation)
  • Stimulating the demand for recycled plastic by introducing a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic
  • Ban on plastic products where there is a clear case for it and alternatives exist, starting with banning the supply of plastic straws, plastic drink stirrers, and plastic-stemmed cotton-buds from April 2020. 
  • Launch of a call for evidence to examine the demand and benefits of the development of standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics as well as to better understand their effects on the environment and their impact in our waste management system (launched in July 2019, closing in October).

The UK has made significant progress so far, by introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, and have reduced the sale of single-use carrier bags by the main supermarket retailers by 90% with a GBP0.05 charge. Consultations have been carried out on plans to extend the charge to all retailers and on increasing the minimum charge to at least GBP0.1. The UK government response for this consultation will be published in due course.

The majority of litter in the ocean is made of plastic and originates from land-based sources. 

20 countries responsible for 80% plastic debris in the sea

90% marine plastics originate from land-based sources

Estimated 2 billion people living without waste disposal

The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out various initiatives to tackle this issue, including use of UK ODA to support developing nations and driving political commitments through Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA).

Operation Clean Sweep

Operation Clean Sweep works to ensure pre-production plastic pellets do not escape into the environment at any stage. The scheme ensures that companies train staff to sweep up spills, have the facilities to dispose of spilt pellets and cover drains to prevent run-off. Pre-production plastic pellets (nurdles) are the basic feedstock used in the production of plastic items. They can be lost from the supply chain and enter the environment. It is estimated that up to 53 billion nurdles are lost each year, and they are one of the biggest sources of microplastics in the marine environment.

Commonwealth Blue Charter & Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance

Through nine Action Groups championed by 12 countries, the Commonwealth will use its global perspective to develop and implement a fair, equitable, inclusive and sustainable approach to global ocean economic development and protection. Action Groups will focus on the following areas: Aquaculture, Blue Economy, Coral Reef Protection and Restoration, Mangrove Restoration, Ocean Acidification, Ocean and Climate Change, Ocean Observations, Marine Plastic Pollution and Marine Protected Areas. 

As Champions of the Marine Plastic Pollution Action Group the UK and Vanuatu have brought together a group of member states to form the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA), supported by the UK’s GBP70m+ commitment.

Technical Assistance Facility (TAF)

Through the TAF, up to £10 million has been made available to CCOA members (who are ODA-eligible) to support the implementation of commitments made under the CCOA. Assistance could take a number of forms, for instance, help in design and implementation new policy (e.g. plastic bag bans), or help with designing plastics and waste management strategies.  


There are 3 stages to delivering the assistance:

    1. A discussion with each partner government to establish their intended actions and what assistance they might need. 
    2. HMG (Defra and DFID) agreeing which activities should be funded.  
    3. Sourcing of relevant expertise and delivery of the assistance.


23 countries so far have been consulted on the CCOA technical assistance facility and will now begin the scoping exercise.

Research and Innovation Framework (BEIS)

The UK set out its intention to work with other Commonwealth countries to develop a Marine Plastics Research and Innovation Framework at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018. 

  • Development of new jointly-funded interdisciplinary research and innovation programmes through the Framework, and development and delivery of activities by individual partnering countries and organisations   
  • Forum for sharing research plans and emerging findings with all partners, increasing coordination and adding value to individual programmes 
  • Support for the development of links between researchers and innovators across the Commonwealth, driving new partnerships and strengthening capacity

The UK has announced that it will contribute GBP25 million towards the Framework, working with Commonwealth partners on operational aspects of the Framework and the development of new bilateral research programmes to support the initiative.

UK Plastics Pact

The UK Plastics Pact, led by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is the first of a global network of such pacts, enabled by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. It brings together the entire plastics packaging value chain behind a common vision and ambitious set of targets to tackle plastic pollution. 

  • By 2025, The UK Plastics Pact will transform the UK plastic packaging sector by meeting four world-leading targets. 
  • By 2025, 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • By 2025, 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
  • By 2025, single-use packaging eliminated 
  • By 2025, 30% averaged recycled content across all packaging

The Pact will stimulate innovative new business models to reduce the total amount of plastic packaging. It will also help build a stronger recycling system, taking more responsibility for waste, and ensuring plastic packaging can be effectively recycled and made into new products and packaging and, with the support of governments, ensure consistent UK recycling is met.

The immediate focus will be on identifying the priority projects that will deliver greatest impacts in the short and long term, such as overcoming barriers to increasing the amount of recycled content used in new packaging, developing reusable packaging and working with partners to overcome the issue of un-recyclable black plastic.


OSPAR is a mechanism by which 15 Governments & the EU cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic through a Regional Action Plan which includes tackling marine plastic litter. The UK is working regionally with other countries in OSPAR to:

  • Establish the feasibility of setting appropriate reduction targets and/or threshold values for litter on beaches, on the sea floor, sea surface, and micro plastics, taking into account regional or sub-regional specificities. 
  • Develop an indicator for micro-litter in sediment. 
  • Establish, if practicable, whether the amount of litter and micro-litter ingested by marine animals adversely affects the health of the species concerned.
  • Develop appropriate measures to reduce litter types harmful to the marine environment.

Global Plastics Action Partnership (GPAP)

The UK supports and funds this partnership hosted by the World Economic Forum, along with Canada and several companies, namely The Coca-Cola Company, Dow Chemical and the PepsiCo Foundation. The initiative is driving collaboration between government and stakeholders in coastal economies who are battling waste.

Aims to translate ambitious commitments into action and show how business, communities and government can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one. The first collaboration (National Plastic Action Partnership) is with the Government of Indonesia that has a national plan to reduce marine plastic pollution by 70% over the next six years

A National Plastic Action Partnership has since been launched in Ghana (October 2019) and another is expected to launch in Vietnam in early 2020.

G7 Oceans Plastics Charter and Action Plan on Marine Litter

This Action Plan includes land and sea-based priorities to reduce marine debris and carry out the following:

  • Move toward a more resource-efficient and sustainable approach to the management of plastics
  • Work with industry towards 100 percent reusable, recyclable or, when viable alternatives do not exist, recoverable plastics by 2030.
  • Use of green public procurement to reduce waste and support secondary plastics markets and alternatives,
  • Work with industry and other levels of government to recycle and reuse at least 55 percent of plastic packaging by 2030

Strengthening of standards for labelling to enable consumers to make sustainable decisions on plastics

United Nations

The UK is committed to SDG Target 14.1: ‘By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution’.

The UK is committed to the UNEA 4 Resolutions: 

Res.1 – Innovative Pathways to Achieve Sustainable Consumption and Production

Res.6 – Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics

Res.7 – Environmentally Sound Management of Waste

Res.9 – Addressing Single-Use Plastic Products Pollution

Res.11 – Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities

  • Addressing the problem of marine litter and microplastics prioritising a whole life cycle approach and resource efficiency, building on appropriate existing initiatives and instruments, and supported by and grounded in science, international cooperation, and multi-stakeholder engagement
  • Compiling available scientific and other relevant data and information to prepare an assessment on sources, pathways, and hazards of litter including plastic litter and microplastic pollution and its presence in the rivers and oceans, scientific knowledge about adverse effects on ecosystems, potential adverse effects on human health and environmentally sound technology innovations
  • Act through Regional Seas Programme (OSPAR)
  • Reduction in the discharge of microplastics into the marine environment including through phase-out of products that contain microplastics
  • Fostering innovation of product design to reduce secondary microplastic release from land- and sea-based sources and improve waste management where needed
  • Prevention of losses of primary microplastics, especially pre-production pellets (flakes and powders), to prevent their spills into the environment, across the whole manufacturing and supply chain
  • Elaborating guidelines on plastic use and production in order to inform consumers, including on standards and labels, to incentivize businesses and retailers to commit to sustainable practices and products, and to support governments to promote the use of information tools and incentives to foster sustainable consumption and production
  • Awareness-raising on the importance of and to encourage sustainable consumption and production with regard to products likely to generate marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics
  • Promotion of environmentally-sound waste management and marine plastic litter recovery
  • Identifying technical and financial resources or mechanisms for supporting countries in addressing marine plastic litter and microplastics

The UK supports UN Clean Seas.

The campaign contributes to the goals of the Partnership on Marine Litter (Information below).

  • Engaging the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic pollution
  • Addressing the root-cause of marine litter by targeting the production and consumption of non-recoverable and single-use plastic
  • Support and committment to the UN Partnership on Marine Litter and the goals
  • Reduction in the impacts of marine litter worldwide on economies, ecosystem, animal welfare and human health 
  • Enhancement of international cooperation and coordination through the promotion and implementation of the Honolulu Strategy – a global framework for the prevention and management of marine debris, as well as the Honolulu Commitment – a multi-stakeholder pledge
  • Promotion of knowledge management, information sharing and monitoring of progress on the implementation of the Honolulu Strategy
  • Promotion of resource efficiency and economic development through waste prevention e.g. 4Rs (reduce, re-use, recycle and re-design) and by recovering valuable material and/or energy from waste
  • Increase in awareness on sources of marine litter, their fate and impacts
  • Assessment of emerging issues related to the fate and potential influence of marine litter, including (micro) plastics uptake in the food web and associated transfer of pollutants and impacts on the conservation and welfare of marine fauna



  • The UK led the world in banning the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads. 
  • The plastic carrier bag charge is to be extended to small business and likely to be increased to be GBP 0.1 – building on previous GBP0.05 levy on plastic bags, which has reduced bags by 15 billion. 
  • In May 2019, the UK announced a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and plastic stemmed cotton buds from April 2020. 
  • There is a HMT commitment to tax on the production and import of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content (subject to further consultation).
  • Work has been done with wet wipe manufactures to address issue of flushability; ‘fine to flush’ is now in operation. Wet wipes are often partly made of polyester, a form of plastic that does not deteriorate like, for example, a tissue might do. This is woven together with cotton, but as a whole means wipes remain together in waterways for a long time.
  • Changes to marine licensing measures to make it easier for divers to recover marine litter 



  • Internationally the UK is delivering action on the ground to support countries take ambitious action. The Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA) was announced by the UK Government at CHOGM 2018. The alliance, now 31 members strong, is encouraging Commonwealth leaders to take greater action on plastic pollution to protect ocean and marine biodiversity. The CCOA is demonstrating global leadership and is showcasing the Commonwealth’s international reach, supported by governments, industry and NGOs. A support package worth up to GBP70m has been announced since CHOGM to support countries in the Commonwealth, and beyond, to drive research and innovation, improve waste management and reduce avoidable plastic. 
  • The GBP6m Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) forms part of the GBP70m support package.  Three national marine litter action plans have been launched, for Belize, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The action plans present the data and research undertaken in country, and lay out recommended policy interventions under each CLiP pillar (land-based sources, marine-based sources, removal, science and research, outreach and education) to help tackle marine litter. As a result of CLiP research, Vanuatu has announced a ban on six single-use plastic items.
  • Four microplastics laboratories have been set up and microplastics monitoring programmes developed (Belize, South Africa, Vanuatu) to collect data and feed into/establish an evidence base. Capacity-building in country ensures that data sets and evidence bases continue to grow, and work continues well beyond the duration of the programme on the ground.
  • The UK has initiated the Marine Plastics Research and Innovation Framework with a £25 million contribution. The initiative will provide a platform and overarching structure for bringing together governments, industry, researchers and practitioners from across the Commonwealth to work together to tackle the global issue of plastic pollution.

Note: Relevant indicators, data or other numerical information can be included at the discretion of each country, for example: (1) the amount of waste generated, reused, collected, recycled, and properly disposed of; (2) the amount of marine litter cleaned up; (3) the scale of use of innovative technologies and materials including R&D investment; (4) the scale and/or effect of assistance for countries that need technical capacity development including the increased amount of waste properly disposed of. (encouraged to indicate the proportion/elements of plastics and/or microplastics, if available)

Best practices

UK and OSPAR best practices:

  • Establishing the feasibility of setting appropriate reduction targets and/or threshold values for litter on beaches, on the sea floor, sea surface, and micro plastics, taking into account regional or sub-regional specificities 
  • Development of an indicator for micro-litter in sediment 
  • Establishment, if practicable, of monitoring on whether the amount of litter and micro-litter ingested by marine animals adversely affects the health of the species concerned
  • Development of appropriate measures to reduce litter types harmful to the marine environment


The UK has committed domestically and internationally to protect the ocean, seas and marine resources from marine litter. It is agreed and understood that this can be achieved through these actions:

  • Conservation and sustainable use of resources for sustainable development 
  • Support for and increased capacity of developing nations
  • Evidence-based policymaking
  • Prevention and reduction of marine pollution – land and sea-based, including ALDFG
  • Good global governance and international collaboration

Contact details

Celia Rose Halifax

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