The Mitigation of Marine Plastic Pollution in International Law

Facts, Policy and Legal Implications


Author: Judith Schäli
The open access publication of this book has been published with the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The massive accumulation of plastics in marine environments is one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time. This book examines the relevant international legal framework applying to land-based sources of plastic pollution. Against the backdrop of the dynamics of recent policy formulation in this field, it outlines the main developments and provides a snapshot inventory of state obligations related to plastic pollution mitigation. The Mitigation of Marine Plastic Pollution in International Law identifies the main barriers and opportunities, and points out the possible building blocks of an enhanced regime.
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Judith Schäli, Ph.D. (2020), University of Bern, Switzerland, is a lawyer at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. She has served as Scientific Advisor to UN Environment on issues related to marine litter and microplastics and has published several book chapters on marine environmental law and governance.

List of Figures and Tables


Table of Cases

Table of International Law Instruments


1Plastics and the Marine Environment
 1 About Plastic Materials
 A The Nature of Plastics
 i. Terms and Definitions

 ii Additives

 iii Economic and Social Considerations

 B The End of Life of Plastic Materials
 i Degradation of Plastic Materials
 1) Degradation, Biodegradation and Composting

 2) Degradation Process of Plastic Materials

 3) Degradation of Plastics in Marine Environments

 4) Biodegradability Standards and Labels

 ii Plastic Wastes
 1) Waste Generation

 2) Costs and Impacts of Waste and Disposal

 C Life-cycle Analysis and Impact Assessments
 i The iso Standard Series on lca

 ii The Life Cycle Initiative

 iii. lca s and Plastics

 2 Plastic Pollution in the Seas
 A Abundance and Spatial Distribution
 i Floating Plastic Debris

 ii Plastic Debris in Beaches

 iii Plastic Debris on the Seabed

 B Composition of Marine Plastic Debris

 C Main Pollution Sources

 D Impacts of Marine Plastic Pollution
 i Impact on the Marine Environment and Marine Biodiversity

 ii Economic and Social Impacts

 3 Summary and Interim Conclusions

2The Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Sources of Plastic Pollution in International Law
 1 The Global Framework
 A Global Policy, Principles and Concepts
 i The Global Policy Framework
 1) UN Environment’s Role in Policy Formulation and Regulation with Regard to Land-based Sources of Marine Pollution

 2) The 1992 Rio Conference

 3) The 1995 Washington Conference and the gpa

 4) The 2011 Honolulu Strategy: Plastics Coming into Focus

 5) Plastic Marine Debris as a Raising Concern in Formal UN Processes

 ii Relevant Principles and Concepts
 1) Sustainable Development

 2) The Polluter Pays Principle

 Conclusion of Section A

 B The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
 i Maritime Zones
 1) Areas under National Jurisdiction

 2) Areas beyond National Jurisdiction

 ii unclos Part xii: The Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment
 1) Definition of Marine Pollution

 2) General Obligations under unclos Part xii

 3) Specific Obligations and Their Relevance to Plastics

 iii Compliance and Enforcement: The Challenges of Plastics
 1) The Legal Framework

 2) The Challenge of Plastics

 3) unclos Dispute Settlement

 Conclusion of Section B

 C The Law of the World Trade Organization
 i The wto in a Nutshell

 ii Core Principles and Agreements
 1) The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

 2) The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

 3) The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

 iii General Remarks Regarding the Relationship between unclos Part xii and wto Law

 iv The Role of wto Law with Regard to Domestic Implementation, Cooperation and Unilateral Enforcement

 Conclusion of Section C

 D Multilateral Environmental Agreements Relevant to Marine Plastic Pollution Mitigation
 i The Protection and Preservation of Marine Species and Ecosystems
 1) The Convention on Biological Diversity

 2) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

 3) Other Biodiversity-related Conventions

 ii Waste Management and the Regulation of Wastes and Hazardous Chemicals
 1) The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

 2) The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

 iii International Watercourses

 iv Prevention and Mitigation of Plastic Pollution from Sea-based Sources

 v Climate Change Mitigation

 Conclusion of Section D

 2 Regional Schemes
 A Overview on the Regional Schemes
 i The Regional Seas Family
 1) The Regional Conventions

 2) Legal Instruments on Land-based Sources of Pollution

 3) Specific Examples

 B Strengths and Deficiencies
 i General Effectiveness and Coverage of the Regional Programmes

 ii Pollution Prevention Standards and Environmental Management

 iii Institutional Considerations, Reporting and Compliance

 iv Means of Implementation

 C Evaluation: Can Regional Programmes Close the Gaps?

 3 Implementation at the Subregional and National Levels
 A A Typology of Implementing Strategies and Measures
 i General Overview

 ii Implementation at the Subregional Level: The Case of the European Union

 B Consistency with wto Law
 i Plastics and Trade

 ii Bans, Taxes and Levies

 iii Packaging Regulations and Other Technical Barriers to Trade

 C Evaluation: Implementation and the Role of Trade Law

Conclusion and Outlook
 1 Challenges Related to Plastic Materials, Social Behaviour and Economic Capacities

 2 Legal Framework and Regulatory Challenges
 A Implementation and Enforcement

 B Regulatory Lacunae

 C Coherence

 3 Successes and Way Forward



A broad community of both policy-makers and researchers is currently grappling with possible legal responses to the global plastic pollution. This book offers great added value in the current discussions under the auspices of UN Environment, various multilateral environmental agreements and other bodies. It is also addressed to relevant national bodies, as well as academics interested in marine pollution or marine environmental law and governance.