UN experts consider options to prevent 12,000 million tonnes of plastic litter reaching the seas by 2050

7th December 2018: Geneva, Switzerland

With UN Environment reporting that 12,000 million tonnes of plastic will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050 under current trends[1], the international community mobilised in Geneva, Switzerland this week to explore ways to tackle marine plastics litter, one of the most visible and pressing environmental issues of our time.

Improved governance, a holistic approach, a possible new global treaty, strengthening existing initiatives and instruments, and better coordination among them, were considered as options, which will go to the next UN Environment Assembly, UNEA-4 in Nairobi next March, for consideration and actioning.

One existing legally-binding instrument, the Basel Convention, was recognised as a valuable avenue for governments and stakeholders to tackle plastic pollution, given it is almost universal and has a number of relevant features, with amendments being discussed at its next conference of the parties next year. Focussing on tackling waste generation at source and at the household level, a Basel Convention Partnership on Household Waste was initiated in 2017 to explore and disseminate innovative solutions, an integrated approach, avoidance and minimisation of waste at source as well systems for the collection, separation, transport, storage, treatment, processing, recycling and where necessary, final disposal, of household waste. More information is available here.

Responding to the call for urgency and to improve actions in the Mediterranean region, strengthened cooperation between international agreements was announced on Friday 6th December, with the secretariats of the Barcelona Convention[2] and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions[3] signing a new memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting regional efforts including to beat plastic pollution.

Next, the Basel Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP), in April/May 2019, will consider a range of additional steps to better address the challenges of plastics wastes[4] including proposed amendments to the Convention to better address plastic wastes[5]; a set of further actions and establishing a new Partnership on Plastic Waste designed as an international vehicle for public-private cooperation, sharing of best practices, and technical assistance in the area of at-source measures to minimise and more effectively manage plastic waste, thus helping tackle the global environmental problem of marine plastic litter. More information on minimising plastic waste is available here.


The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, or BRS Secretariat, supports parties implement the three leading multilateral environment agreements governing chemicals and waste, in order to protect human health and the environment. See www.brsmeas.org for more info and follow @brsmeas twitter feed for daily news.

The Barcelona Convention was adopted in 1976 and aims to protect and improve the marine and coastal environment in the Mediterranean, whilst promoting regional and national plans contributing to sustainable development. Today, 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the European Union, are Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention. The UN Environment / Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) is a cooperative effort to support the implementation of the Barcelona Convention. See web.unep.org/unepmap for more info.

Media enquiries, interviews:

Charlie Avis
Public Information Officer
BRS Secretariat
Tel: +41-79-7304495  

[1] UN Environment UNEP/AHEG/2018/1/INF/3: Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: an assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and subregional governance strategies and approaches; p.9;  available at : https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/unep_aheg_2018_inf3_full_assessment_en.pdf

[2] Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean.

[3] Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants