How to deal with the (micro)plastic pollution

For plastics, we all know the reduce reuse recycle rule. It almost looks like all the responsibility for plastics pollution lies on consumers. But remember the lifecycleplastics use is just one part of the story. The change must come also in the petrochemical industry and management facilities. These changes can be done only through global strategy and probably on the legislative regulation scale.

The most effective recommendation is simple: immediately reduce the production and use of plastic.1 The most effective solutions are those that impact the beginning of the plastic lifecycle.


CONSUMERS · Buying less and refusing single-use plastics makes pressure on manufacturers to produce more sustainable products. · Plastic products should be reused several times. The useful life of the plastic item can be prolonged by offering it to the community – swap, donation.

· Learn to recycle – every city has a local waste management strategy. Follow the zero waste rules.

· Collect plastics from the environment.


· Plastic production should be reduced.

· Recycled plastic should be preferred over virgin plastic.

· Bio-based plastic is produced from renewable carbon. Waste is the preferred primary source.

· Durable product design allows the consumer to use the product repeatedly.

· New technologies can make plastic recycling more efficient.

· Precise technology and logistics can reduce both managed and mismanaged technology waste.

· Product design of easily recyclable goods facilitates waste management.

· Biodegradable or compostable products.

GOVERNMENTS · A plastic tax could a) distract from low-value products (single-use plastics) b) distract consumers from buying and motivate them to reuse, c) make sustainable alternatives cost-effective, d) directly fund waste management.

· EU Single-use plastics directive came into force and Intentionally added microplastics restriction is being prepared.

· UK, Canada and New Zealand have already banned primary microplastics in rinse-off cosmetic products.

· Recycling facilities should be supported over landfills and incinerators. Governments should protect the citizens from waste originated pollution and educate and motivate them towards sustainable waste management and a zero-waste approach.

Plastic collection

Water filtering to remove all microplastics is a demanding and expensive process.2 Removing microplastics from the seabed is impossible. However, the collection of macro-plastics from the environment reduces the main microplastics source.3 The Ocean Cleanup project uses long floats to trap plastic debris on the surface near the coast. However, they cannot address plastic pollution throughout the water mass.2

Bacterial degradation of plastics

Penicillium simplissimum was reported for modest degradation of plastic. Nocardia destiroides degraded PE. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) was degraded by a microbial consortium including a novel bacterium Idionella sakaiensis. A Pseudomonas strain isolated from soil of plastic dumping site was reported to grow on polyurethane oligomers and monomers. Three years ago, Galleria mellonella caterpillar was reported to degrade PE. However, a breakthrough that can lead to large scale degradation of plastics is still awaited.4


Bioplastics are a wide group of materials that are either bio-based or biodegradable. In the best scenario bioplastics possess both the features. The lack of evidence on the sustainability and biodegradability of these materials is a big issue. However, bioplastics can become a solution for indispensable single-use products for example in medicine or agriculture.

Civic activity


Activism itself is not a solution to the problems, but a valid way how to open the discussion and force society to seek the solutions to the most painful problems.

Zero waste

The zero-waste approach is still more and more fashionable. Thus, easier to follow – find the zero-waste community of your city! Seek for zero-waste shops, swaps, markets, etc.

Avoiding primary microplastics

Even though the policies for intentionally added microplastics are being prepared, the microplastics are still allowed in many daily used products in most countries. Check the microplastic content of cosmetic products here:

Activities of enterprises

Companies very often state to contribute to target the Sustainable Development Goals. All the biggest players have already set their action plans and commitments.

Companies can use third-party assessments to demonstrate they meet their objectives, usually through environmental labels like EU Ecolabel, Nordic Swan, Blue Angel, etc. (More on

Governments and international organizations policies

The biggest impact on the reduction of plastic waste was given by the Chinese waste import ban in 2017. Europe halved its monthly plastic waste export. Yet, other countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam still accept plastic waste.5

European Union

The Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive adopted in 2019 addresses marine litter coming from single-use plastic products, as well as plastic fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics. It also stimulates sustainable alternatives that avoid the generation of marine litter. By July 2021 EU member states must implement the regulation into national legislation.

Restriction of intentionally added microplastic particles is being prepared by ECHA and should come into effect in 2022.

European Union allocates investments for research and development of properly recyclable and/or biodegradable plastics.

Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008) aims to protect the European marine environment.

Circular Economy Action Plan, a strategy adopted in 2018 to protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation. It aims to have all plastic packaging placed on the EU market reusable or recyclable by 2030.6

United Nations

Sustainable Development Goals

SDGs set in 2015 provide a comprehensive framework that can be easily adopted by both governments and enterprises. Reduction of (micro)plastic pollution contributes to fulfilling most of the SDGs. SDG 14.1 specifically aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine litter and nutrient pollution.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Basel Convention)

The signatories commit to reducing the movement of hazardous waste across borders. The agreement aims to prevent the transport of waste from developed to low-income countries. In 2019 (in effect from 2021), plastic waste was added to the list of hazardous waste.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (Stockholm Convention)

Originally, it limited 12 persistent organic pollutants, mainly pesticides. Many other compounds have been added to the blacklist. In 2019 the Stockholm convention was transformed into European Regulation (EU 2019/1021).

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

According to UNCLOS from 1982, the signatory states shall adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

MARPOL is the principal convention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) from 1988 to address ship-based sources of pollution from international shipping.

IMO Action Plan to Address Marine Plastic Litter from Ships

In 2018, IMO Member States agreed actions to be completed by 2025, which relate to all ships, including fishing vessels.

London Convention (1972) and London Protocol (1996)

The objective of the London Convention and Protocol is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution. Contracting Parties shall take effective measures to prevent pollution of the marine environment caused by dumping at sea.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

CBD adopted in 2016 a resolution addressing impacts of marine debris and anthropogenic underwater noise on marine and coastal biodiversity

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

In recent years, the Convention has put more emphasis on marine litter. The Contracting Parties also adopted actions plans to address impacts from the marine litter for specific marine species, namely for the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Pacific and for whales and dolphins.

United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA)

UNFSA includes obligations for contracting states to minimize pollution, waste, discards, and catch by lost or abandoned gear.

United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)

UNEA is often referred to as the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment. It sets priorities for global environmental policies and develops international environmental law. However, it is important to highlight that the resolutions from UNEA are not legally binding and hence are considered soft instruments.

FAO – Marking of Fishing Gear

In July 2018, the Thirty-Third Session of FAO’s Committee on Fisheries endorsed FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear.6

Furthermore, there are national regulation and legislation on microplastics, plastic littering, etc., which are not discussed here.


1 Kistler, A. and C. Muffett, 2019. Plastic & Climate, The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet.

2 Patil, S., A. Bafana, P. K. Naoghare, et al. Environmental prevalence, fate, impacts, and mitigation of microplastics—a critical review on present understanding and future research scope. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2021, 28(5): 4951-4974. doi: 10.1007/s11356-020-11700-4.

3 Schmid, C., L. Cozzarini and E. Zambello. Microplastic’s story. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 2020: 111820. doi:

4 Mehnaz, S. and A. Javaid. Microbes and plastic waste management. Environmental Sustainability. 2020, 3(4): 337-339. doi: 10.1007/s42398-020-00149-3.

5 Filiciotto, L. and G. Rothenberg. Biodegradable Plastics: Standards, Policies, and Impacts. ChemSusChem. 2020, n/a(n/a). doi:

6 Vuola, A., 2019. Review of existing policies and research related to microplastics.