Marine Litter & Plastics

The intense challenges in the Mediterranean posed by plastic pollution have inspired the MedWaves focus on marine litter solutions.

Plastics are an example of how important it is to continue to innovate over time. Once a great solution to modern living, the negative impacts of single-use plastics (SUP) are now clear. In order to protect our health, our environments and our futures, there is a need to end our relationship with SUPs and continue to innovate with sustainable solutions.  

The Mediterranean Sea covers less than 1% of the world’s oceans, yet accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s biodiversity. This small basin holds up to 55% of all floating ocean plastic particles and concentrates as well as 7% of all global microplastics. The evidence of this can be seen walking along the edges of the sea bed and beaches.  

Where is it all coming from? The Mediterranean region is the world’s fourth largest plastic producer, with populations producing some of the highest quantities of solid urban waste per capita, at 208-760kg/yr. The debris along the Mediterranean beaches shows a prevalence of land-based litter stemming predominantly from tourism activities. It has been found that the marine litter found along the Mediterranean coast increases by around 40% during the peak tourist period.  


Examples of SUPs include plastic bags, plates, tableware, straws, stirrers, food and beverage containers, packaging, cups and cup lids, cigarette filters, cotton bud sticks, wet wipes, sanitary towels, balloons and more. These products typically have low production costs and short use phases aimed for convenience. The nature of any single-use product is decreased value, which may contribute to the propensity of finding SUPs as litter, polluting marine environment or clogging sewage systems.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new layer of challenge by introducing new SUP items, especially masks and gloves; intensifying the single-use of certain products due to safety and sanitary considerations; and increasing SUPs related to takeaway food and beverage.  

The amount of waste produced is not the only challenge. The mismanagement of this waste remains a key issue across the region, with some countries facing intensified challenges. Plastic waste is either directly littered or dumped into the environment, leaking into rivers and ending up in the sea. Due to the fact that the southern Mediterranean countries recycle, on average, less than 10% of their plastic waste, there are approximately 6 million tonnes of plastic waste mismanaged every year. That is equivalent to the weight of 24,000 humpback whales!  

This challenge is exacerbated because the Mediterranean basin is a semi-enclosed sea with a number of seasonal runoffs or riverine inputs that significantly contribute marine litter loads to the basin. There is scientific evidence that confirms that plastic pollution poses a major threat to marine biodiversity and the ecosystems within the marine environment, thereby threatening key economic sectors, such as fisheries and tourism, as well as negatively impacting air and water quality, and ultimately human health.  

Our Stakeholders

It is possible to achieve solutions via multi-stakeholder approaches that address measures along the full value chain of plastics. In the plastic strategy aimed to move towards Good Environmental Status of the Mediterranean Sea, MedWaves has defined four main strategic axes: 

  • Reduction and prevention: Plastic leakage in the environment, in particular in the marine environment, should be drastically avoided and reduced.  
  • Reduction of toxicity and increase in durability: Plastic should innovate in order to serve as a valuable, non-hazardous material in long-lasting products and packaging. 
  • Life-cycle thinking: Conceptualisation of the entire life of plastics should be applied to prevent avoidable waste and pollution. 
  • Innovation: Sustainable business models should be supported to support the shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns and a circular economy of plastics.   


In order to put in motion this strategy, MedWaves works directly with national and local policy makers, research institutions, businesses, business-support organisations, financial actors, civil society organisations, Marine Protected Areas managers and national experts. MedWaves also coordinates with a number of regional organisations actively involved in tackling the issue in the Mediterranean. 

Key actions

The MedWaves strategy to tackle plastic pollution in the Mediterranean has defined several areas of work in order to support the prevention of marine litter and close the tap of plastic pollution from several perspectives:  

  • Support a robust policy framework, including provision of tools and capacity building opportunities. MedWaves has published technical guidelines to help regulate single-use plastics (SUPs), engaging with several countries. 
  • Boost development of innovative solutions by green entrepreneurs and businesses. Innovation is the pathway towards a healthy transition to alternative models of production and consumption. The MedWaves Switchers Support Programme supports the creation of new green and circular businesses, specifically supporting the prevention and reduction of plastic pollution. 
  • Raise awareness among citizens to empower and enable informed choices. MedWaves provides information on sustainable alternatives to SUPs, supporting countries in the development of targeted awareness raising campaigns.   
  • Implement and scale up existing solutions and good practices. MedWaves supports the implementation of pilot projects and initiatives at the local level, enabling the results to be transferred to other territories along with the sharing of policy recommendations. 
  • Promote dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders. MedWaves maintains contact with key international organisations in order to ensure coordination of efforts in reducing and avoiding marine litter. The centre contributes to strategic processes and international events.