Plastic and other pollution

Every year, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced. Millions of tons of plastic end up in our ocean and rivers every year. However, plastics are only one type of pollution driving the decline in ocean - and planetary - health. The ocean is also threatened by eutrophication (nutrient load), sediment load, light pollution, marine resource extraction, noise, and chemical pollution. The Earth faces challenges of air, water, and soil pollution, too.

Effects of pollution include biodiversity loss, declines in health, loss of livelihoods, and other negative consequences. Pollution in the ocean causes marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation. Rivers lose their ability to support plant and animal life if they are polluted. Air that is polluted causes many health problems.

The cumulative impacts on species, humans, and ecosystems need to be addressed. On this page and supporting pages IUCN offers solutions and resources to restore and revitalise our planet and our ocean.

About plastic and other pollution

The majority of marine plastics come from land-based sources, including urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, construction and illegal dumping. Ocean-based sources are derived mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture.

The bad news is that once released into our oceans, plastic never goes away. It does not biodegrade. It simply fragments into small particles, named micro- and nanoplastics under the influence of natural factors (solar UV radiation, wind, currents, etc). But the good news is that we can take action to turn these problems into solutions.

To better understand the extent of plastic and other pollution, IUCN has produced several analytical pieces of work and is supporting research, economic analysis, national and international policy creation and improvement, circular economy, and programmatic action in several countries. 

Roughly 70%

of plastic pollution sinks to the ocean floor

17 countries

where IUCN has implemented plastic pollution projects
PWFI Plastics

Plastic Waste Free Islands

Since 2019, IUCN has been working to empower Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to measure plastic pollution and identify effective circular economy, policy, and sectoral interventions for fisheries, tourism and waste management. Efforts have focused on Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and St Lucia in the Caribbean and Fiji, Samoa, and Vanuatu in the Pacific. 

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Story | 17 June, 2022
IUCN, Plastic Waste Free Islands (PWFI) project shares proposed Policy recommendations to improve the management of plastic waste in Fiji and reduce leakages from target sectors
On 15 June 2022, under its Plastic Waste Free Islands (PWFI) Project, IUCN through consultants…