Towards a new plastics economy and waste-free oceans  [PDF version]

How can the circular economy contribute to addressing marine litter? In preparation for the forthcoming European Plastics Strategy, IEEP explores how the value of plastics as a resource can be retained in the economy, keeping them out of the oceans. 


The negative impacts of marine litter have gained increasing attention amongst industry, policy makers and the general public. At the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town this year, marine plastics were identified as one of the key indicators that supported the designation of the Anthropocene as the new geological era. Despite the increasing awareness, everyday practices and products continue to result in the unnecessary flow of plastics into the marine biosphere at an estimated rate of 12.2 million tons per annum

Political ambitions to support a transition to a circular economy in Europe have the potential to provide a framework to address many common sources of marine litter, as they recognise that plastics are valuable, non-renewable resources that, when not managed effectively, have significant environmental impacts. Furthermore, circular economy tools and business models can support the reduction of plastic waste. These might include a range of reduce, re-use, repair or recycling activities, which oppose the single-use or disposable approaches common place for plastic products and plastic packaging.

The European Commission, as part of its Circular Economy Package, has promised to publish a Plastic Strategy in 2017 – which will aim at “addressing issues such as recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances of concern in certain plastics, and marine litter”.

In a continuation of IEEP’s engagement with marine litter and the circular economy, as well as part of its membership to Alliance for Circular Economy Solutions (ACES), the institute has produced a briefing entitled “Plastics, Marine Litter and Circular Economy” to provide policy relevant insights on the issue. This also includes three product fiches, providing easily communicable tools on the following problematic plastic product groups: microbeads in personal care and cosmetics, polystyrene and single use plastics.

These new publications provide policy recommendations and a road map for action for the much awaited plastics strategy. IEEP’s experts intend to follow closely how circular economy policies address plastic pollution and waste development in the coming months.

For more information on this work area, please contact Emma Watkins or Jean-Pierre Schweitzer.