The UN Passes Plastics Reduction Resolution to End ‘Ocean Armageddon’

On December 6, hundreds of UN member states committed to ending plastic waste — a much-needed step to eliminate this damaging material from marine ecosystems. 

Scientific estimates suggest that our oceans may hold more than 300 million tonnes of plastics litter, with an additional eight million tonnes dumped globally every year. This waste impacts countless marine species and their predators, including humans.

Now, the UN’s Environment Programme has facilitated a 200 nation-strong pledge for member states to take action.

The resolution asks that signatories monitor plastic waste and begin phasing out the material. Some of these strategies include banning microplastics, recycling plastics and eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging. Additionally, the UNEP “urges all actors to step up actions to by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds” and advocates that signatories “avoid marine litter and micro plastics entering the marine environment” by creating policy and legislation to underpin that effort.

While not legally binding, this pledge serves as a statement of intent and a first step toward greater action.

Norway led the charge on this resolution, which emerged at a UN framework event in Nairobi last week. The country’s environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, explains to Reuters why this agreement is so critical for future progress: 

We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months,” he said. “We found micro plastics inside mussels, which is something we like to eat. In January this year, a fairly rare species of whale was stranded on a beach because of exhaustion and they simply had to kill it. In its tummy they found 30 plastic bags.

Canada, Kenya and Brazil are just a few of the 40 nations to have already signed on to the UN’s “CleanSeas” program, which goes one step further in translating intent into action.

During the Nairobi meeting, several more signatories joined that list, including Chile, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka. In announcing their support for this program, the countries also agreed to several concrete steps.

For example, Sri Lanka will introduce a ban on single-use plastic bags as of January 1, 2018, with other strong commitments such as making its coasts free of plastics pollution by 2030. Meanwhile, Chile hopes to extend its marine protected areas and has committed to legislation that will drive greater corporate responsibility and improve recycling efforts. South Africa and Oman are also increasing manufacturing responsibility and accelerating clean-up drives.

“For too long, we have treated the ocean as a bottomless dumping ground for plastic, sewage and other waste,” UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim explained in a press release. “The countries supporting CleanSeas are showing the leadership we need in order to end this abuse, and protect the marine resources on which millions depend for their livelihoods.”

Notably missing from the UN’s new resolution are China and India, two of the world’s biggest plastic polluters. These nations are often skeptical of unilateral resolutions that could impact their growth, so that fact isn’t especially surprising. Nevertheless, China has made notable strides toward curbing plastics pollution, offering hope that agreements might be reached in the future.

The United States was also absent from this agreement. In fact, as the Independent reports, the U.S. actually led efforts against the resolution — perhaps another example of the Trump administration’s contempt for and skepticism of any and all environmental protection policy. While the U.S. is not among the world’s biggest plastics polluters, the country lags significantly on recycling efforts.

Even without the support of all member states, the UN has managed to form a strong consensus that we cannot continue poisoning our oceans with plastic — and action must be taken today.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 months ago

We don't need more laws or rules. We need people to start disposing of their trash correctly!

Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer7 months ago

good - now we have do also do our part

Claudia S
Claudia S7 months ago


Janis K
Janis K7 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Clare O
Clare O'Beara7 months ago

be the change!

Clare O
Clare O'Beara7 months ago

good. get it under way now!

Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O7 months ago

Far too long in the polluting...way too long for the clean-up to be implemented by 2025... sadly it is not even binding! Come one we can and must do better than this, please.

Helen ollerenshaw
Helen ollerenshaw7 months ago

Great news from UN next step international tax from all nations to fund the clean up of international waters..

Irene S
Irene S7 months ago

2025 is a bit late for my taste.