Press Release: Upstream solutions for ocean pollution

New report details the importance of capturing litter upstream before it becomes unmanageable ocean pollution.

The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) Task Force, led by Dr Costas Velis from the University of Leeds, has published a report highlighting the seriousness of marine litter and identifying potential areas of intervention.

The President of ISWA, Antonis Mavropoulos, said: “Marine litter is becoming a global challenge, similar to climate change.”

“Our oceans are already the biggest dumpsite for million tonnes of used plastics per year. The visible plastic pollution, which is now in almost every shoreline in the world, is a relatively small problem in comparison to invisible micro-plastics.”

The report, available on the ISWA Task Force website, estimates that in low income countries, for every metric tonne of uncollected waste near waterways, almost 18 kilograms of plastic enters the ocean — equivalent to more than 1,500 plastic bottles. 

For every metric tonne of plastic waste that is collected, as much as seven kilograms of plastic waste are leaked to the ocean between collection and disposal.

Dr Costas Velis, from the School of Civil Engineering at Leeds said: “It is crucial that plastic waste is captured upstream. When plastic waste enters the water and fragments, it will eventually transform into micro- and nano-particles, at which point it is beyond our abilities to control.

“Plastic particles have been detected in all of the world’s oceans — even in the most remote environments – and it has entered the food chain. Our efforts should be refocused on deploying the necessary waste collection and safe disposal infrastructure to prevent these plastics from getting into our oceans in the first place.”

The report analyses how a lack of infrastructure and inappropriate waste management practices, particularly in low and middle income countries, are a key systemic failure in tackling marine litter. The report highlights the need to work with the waste and resources recovery sector in order to tackle problem of marine litter.

The report identifies four priority areas for immediate action.

  1. Prevent uncontrolled dumping by providing waste collection services for all.
  2. Stop littering and fly-tipping.
  3. Close dumpsites and provide appropriate waste treatment and disposal facilities for all.
  4. Work with the maritime sector to establish effective systems for recovering waste and recyclable materials from the fishing, shipping and tourism sectors.

Other action will also be needed to address the marine litter challenge. In the medium term, it will be important to enhance and capture the value of used plastic, including: reducing single-use items; designing for recyclability; increasing effective collection and separation of waste plastics; and creating stable, strong markets for secondary plastics.

Over the long term, it will be necessary to transition to circular approaches for manufacturing, using and recycling plastics.

These interventions will be explored in more detail by the task force over the coming months.

Dr Velis said: “Waste and resource management is a local issue but when it comes to marine litter, local actions add up to global impact.”

“The UNEP Global Waste Management Outlook has identified that two billion people are without access to waste collection services. If these two billion people keep dumping their waste, sometimes directly into waterways, we will never be able to eliminate the marine litter crisis.”

Further information:

The ISWA Task Force report was launched at the ISWA/SWANA World Congress 2017 on Tuesday 26 of September.

The full report and supporting infographic are available online.

Dr Costas Velis is available for interviews +44 (0) 790 668 4410 and Or contact the University of Leeds press office at +44 (0)113 34 34196 or

The ISWA Marine Litter Task Force is an international partnership led by International Solid Waste Association. Our aim is to explore and clearly establish the link between efficient waste management and the prevention of plastic waste reaching our oceans. 


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