How to improve EU legislation to tackle marine litter

Marine litter is of increasing concern, and is widely recognised to result in negative ecological, social and economic impacts such as the entanglement of protected marine species or losses in tourism revenue due to litter-strewn beaches.

This study analyses many different pieces of EU legislation to determine their relevance to marine litter, examines their deficiencies and gaps, and proposes options for improvement. The policies examined include the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Waste Framework and Packaging Waste Directives, the Water Framework Directive, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, the Cosmetics Regulation, the Common Fisheries Policy, and many more. Generally the gaps consist of the need for better implementation and enforcement, and increased ambition of current requirements.

Focusing on improving the existing instruments, priority policy areas for action were identified, including increasing the ambition of Member States’ implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and improving waste legislation and its implementation.

So far Member State implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive has been inconsistent and unambitious, but despite uncertainties and information shortages, regional and national case studies have shown that targets can be set and measures implemented that will have a significant impact on marine litter. In the longer term an EU wide target for marine litter as required by the 7th Environment Action Programme should be set and incorporated into the Directive.

The concept of litter is scarcely mentioned in existing waste legislation. Incorporating the concept into the Waste Framework and Packaging Waste Directives could be an important step towards ensuring that legislation addresses the issue. Now is a good time to argue for action, given the prominence of resource efficiency on the EU policy agenda and the ongoing wide-ranging review of EU waste legislation. If marine litter can be placed on the agenda of these discussions, significant progress could be made to raise awareness and improve waste policy.

This study was commissioned by Seas At Risk, alongside another study focusing exclusively on improving the Port Reception Facilties Directive in order to reduce ship generated marine litter.