Plastic pollution


Marine plastic pollution is one of the most serious emerging threats to the health of oceans and a major hazard to marine biodiversity. We have worked on the issue at the UK level and internationally, campaigning both alone and in partnerships against single-use plastics such as supermarket carrier bags, microbeads in rinse-off products and other forms of damaging plastic packaging.

The problem

Unprecedented growth in the production and use of plastics is triggering a global environmental crisis. Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean, an amount set to quadruple by 2050 unless major reform is put in place. Over 800 species are known to have ingested or been entangled in marine plastic pollution, killing hundreds of thousands of animals every year. Urgent action is needed to significantly reduce plastic consumption and waste to end the devastating pollution of our oceans. We are campaigning to phase out all unnecessary plastic use and significantly improve reuse and recycling

The difference we’ve made

We first drew attention to the issue of marine plastic pollution in 2001 through our work assessing global threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises. Through published scientific papers and reports to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), we have contributed to a sustained programme of work to address marine debris at the IWC.

In 2016 we formed the UK microbead coalition with Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and Marine Conservation Society. The coalition successfully campaigned for the UK Government to adopt a world leading ban on microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products which will prevent millions of microplastic particles entering our seas every day.

We have also been working at the European level, initially helping to secure Europe-wide measures to address plastic carrier bags and more recently as part of the Rethink Plastic Alliance focused on strengthening EU legislation related to plastics and waste. In 2018 we secured two major EU legislative agreements;  an ambitious revision to legislation governing waste from ships and fishing gear and a new EU Directive that introduces measures to target the top 10 single-use plastics found on beaches and fishing gear, including bans on certain single-use plastics.

Internationally, we are a founding member of the groundbreaking #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement. Together with our partners we helped steer the adoption of a UN initiative to spearhead the fight against marine plastic pollution at a global level.

Plastic pollution

Marine debris

Moving forward

Our marine plastic pollution campaign is focused on obtaining strong regulatory measures at international, European and national levels to achieve a significant reduction in plastics entering the oceans. Our work covers a range of sources from the pre-production plastic pellets (so-called ‘nurdles’) that pollute our shorelines to single-use plastic items and other unnecessary plastic packaging to the ‘ghost’ fishing gear that ensnares and kills marine wildlife.

We are campaigning to secure Europe-wide legislation to dramatically reduce sources of single-use plastic and microplastic entering our seas from land while also tackling the major sources of plastic pollution originating from shipping and fisheries. Both within Europe and the UK, we are working to obtain world-leading policies on single-use plastics that will catalyse international action.

We are also working to galvanise corporate action and push major UK retailers to adopt ambitious commitments to cut single-use plastics and packaging. In the first survey of its kind, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK surveyed and ranked the plastic habits of the country’s biggest grocery retailers.

Our international campaign is focused on securing a binding global agreement on marine plastic pollution that will significantly reduce production and use of plastics and prevent plastic waste entering the ocean.

How you can help

Your gift today will help us continue our vital investigative and campaigning work. Also you can help end plastic pollution by following these simple steps.