Marine Litter

Marine litter is defined as any solid material which has been deliberately discarded or unintentionally lost on beaches, on shores or at sea. The definition covers materials transported into the marine environment from land by rivers, draining or sewage systems or winds. It includes any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material.

Originating from sources both on land and at sea, marine litter comprises a wide range of materials, including plastic, metal, wood, rubber, glass and paper, however it is dominated by plastic which accounts for up to 90% of the items found on beaches in the OSPAR Maritime Area.

Composition of litter recorded on OSPAR beach litter survey sites April 2012 – January 2018 (cotton-bud-sticks and cigarette butts are regarded as plastic) (Note: an unknown number of other items in the categories cloth/textile, rubber, sanitary and medical are also made of artificial polymers)

A similar predominance of plastics is reported from sampling at the sea surface and on the seabed. Most plastics are extremely durable materials and persist in the marine environment for a considerable period, possibly as much as hundreds of years. However, plastics also deteriorate and fragment in the environment as a consequence of exposure to sunlight (photo-degradation) in addition to physical and chemical deterioration. This breakdown of larger items results in numerous tiny plastic fragments, which, when smaller than 5mm are called micro plastics. Some plastics of this size are also produced either for direct use, such as for industrial abrasives or cosmetics or for indirect use, such as pellets or nurdles.