Marine plastic litter on Small Island Developing States (SIDS): Impacts and measures.
Rapport, 2017

This report was commissioned by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water management and written by analysts at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment (affiliated with the University of Gothenburg, Lund University, and Chalmers University of Technology). This report documents how marine plastic litter reaches even the most remote parts of the oceans with small island states, and how SIDS are especially vulnerable to its impact. The origin and composition of marine plastic litter and its impacts are described. Measures are discussed, both from state agencies and private corporations. Measures from existing RAPs on marine litter are reviewed and examples of private initiatives are mentioned. Also, the corresponding legal framework is given and side effects of marine litter measures on the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN are debated. THE VULNERABILITY OF SIDS SIDS are a set of island nations in the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. SIDS are exposed to disproportionate concentrations of plastic litter due to their location near the ocean gyres where marine litter accumulates and to often sub-performing waste management systems. ORIGINS AND COMPOSITION OF MARINE PLASTIC LITTER Because plastic make up most marine debris, the focus here is on plastic litter. Marine plastic litter washed ashore on SIDS originates from both distant countries overseas and the SIDS themselves. Buoyant plastic litter is globally distributed by ocean currents and is washed ashore on beach lines around the globe where it negatively impacts ecological and human systems. Plastics end up in the marine environment through leaks from the global value chains that run from the oil industry through various other industries to local retailers and consumers. A smaller but significant stream of plastic litter follows from the difficulties of many SIDS to establish and maintain efficient waste management systems. IMPACT OF PLASTIC LITTER ON ECOLOGICAL, SOCIAL, AND ECONOMIC VALUES Marine litter impacts the environment and organisms therein in various ways, including entanglement, ingestion, transfer of chemicals, or by otherwise altering habitats. The extent of the social and economic impact that plastic on countries is not currently well known. However, the dependence of SIDS on their natural resources through tourism and fisheries, make them economically vulnerable to plastic litter. MITIGATION AND REMEDIATION STRATEGIES For plastic that reaches SIDS, both remediation and mitigation, especially through waste management and recycling, become necessary. LEGAL AND POLITICAL FRAMEWORKS The legal framework for preventing and managing marine litter is present on all levels of governance. A declaration particularly relevant to marine litter on SIDS is the SAMOA Pathway, a declaration from the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014 calling for measures to manage waste, including marine plastic litter. Multilateral agreements require party states to take actions, but these requirements are often generally formulated, and their achievements depend on the choices and participation of all parties. POLICY MEASURES PROPOSED BY REGIONAL ACTION PLANS There are 18 Regional Seas programmes under the United Nations Environmental Program for the protection of the marine environment. Some Regional Seas programmes have written strategies to guide their actions, the RAPs, i.e. a political agenda for marine litter management agreed on by member governments of the region. The contents of different RAPs show strong similarities. The analyses conducted here show that most measures suggested by RAPs are aimed at downstream processes, while fewer address the problem upstream. Additional measures are needed to solve such a global problem. VOLUNTARY AND COMMERCIAL INITIATIVES Marine litter requires an array of actions from local to global level, and is thus a matter of governance. Most measures suggested in RAPs and other work against marine litter involve government managers as well as businesses, NGOs, and voluntary initiatives. RECOMMENDATION: FUTURE COOPERATION Competence and enthusiasm for the issue on SIDS and elsewhere is growing, but more is needed. Solutions require international cooperation. Four recommendations for cooperation are highlighted here: 1. Prevent litter from entering the ocean and thus reaching SIDS: Support cooperation in regional and international agreements 2. Plastic material reaching SIDS should not be released into the environment: Technical cooperation and support for local waste management 3. If waste reaches the environment, collect it where appropriate: Support beach clean-up campaigns and other remediation measures 4. When waste has been collected, ensure that is has a value: Develop recycling markets and opportunities


marine debris


small island developing states

waste management


Florina Lachmann

Bethanie Carney Almroth

Göteborgs universitet

Henrikke Baumann

Chalmers, Energi och miljö, Environmental Systems Analysis

Göran Broström

Göteborgs universitet

Hervé Corvellec

Lena Gipperth

Göteborgs universitet

Martin Hassellöv

Göteborgs universitet

Therese Karlsson

Göteborgs universitet

Per G. Nilsson

Göteborgs universitet


Hållbar utveckling



Annan naturresursteknik



Ekonomi och näringsliv

Textil-, gummi- och polymermaterial

Oceanografi, hydrologi, vattenresurser



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