Primary Microplastics in the Oceans © Imre Sebestyén
Primary Microplastics in the Oceans © Imre Sebestyén
Marine Litter on Cuttings Beach, South Africa © Lisa Gaustella
Marine Litter on Cuttings Beach, South Africa © Lisa Gaustella


Building on the best available science, IUCN is developing various tools to better understand the state and impacts of plastic pollution and supporting governments and industries in their shift from a linear to a circular model for plastics


Many quick fixes to plastic pollution have been identified and some are already being implemented, such as banning plastic straws, taxing plastic bags and reducing single use items. While these measures are important and helpful, plastic pollution does not always occur at a product’s end-of-life. Plastic leakage can also take place earlier in the life cycle.

IUCN will provide governments and industries with a consistent footprint calculator together with a mismanagement plastic waste index allowing them to quantify the scales of plastic flows within their supply chains or territories, detect hotspots, understand and account for the impact of plastic, set targets and monitor progress[1].

An economic model to develop national valuation of environmental benefits, costs and opportunities of plastics, and its alternatives will also be provided and applied in target countries. For more contextualisation, costs-benefit analyses will also be developed at the local level in one of the MARPLASTICCS pilot sites.

Published literature has shown that the major source of plastic pollution in Africa’s oceans and seas is mismanaged plastic waste. Prof. Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Cape Town University, estimated that more than half of South Africa’s solid waste is mismanaged. Led by its Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), South Africa is already taking decisive action.

To reduce plastic leakages into the environment, the DEA is launching the Source to Sea project aimed at addressing land-based sources of pollution through a catchment-wide approach built on the interconnectedness of coasts and upstream landscapes. Based on information gathered during annual clean-up events, priority river basins have been identified in the KwaZulu Natal province that require urgent attention, as have major hotspots characterized by high human densities. The rivers in these basins feed into Durban’s beaches and harbour, creating a strong likelihood that pollution disrupts tourism, recreational activities, and harbour services. In 2013, tourism generated the equivalent of US $480 million (in today’s currency) for the regional economy and supported about 61,000 jobs.

This information, and that collected by the Source to Sea project and MARPLASTICCS, will inform the decision-making and the design of on-the-ground actions.

[1] As a first step, IUCN will publish in early 2019 “Plastic footprint: state of the art and ways forward”, a critical review of existing footprint methods.

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