Marine litter, Policies and legislation, EU policies and legislation

See also: International

A broad range of EU policies and legislation relate to marine litter, particularly those addressing the coastal and marine environment. This includes the EU Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) for the development of sea-related activities in a sustainable manner and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Moreover, other EU environmental legislation relating to water, nature and waste management addresses more sectoral aspects of the marine litter problem as concerns its impact or source. Waste management legislation should be seen in the broader context of enhanced resource efficiency, now a key cross-cutting policy goal. The EU policy on resource efficiency may have an influence on the upstream sources of marine litter by influencing the design of plastic products and particularly of packaging and may stimulate increased collection and recycling.


The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) was adopted in 2008. Its main objective is to achieve good environmental status (GES) of all marine waters of the European Union by 2020. The Directive sets out eleven qualitative descriptors explaining the concept of GES. Marine litter is addressed in Descriptor 10, which aims at acheiving that 'properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment'. The MSFD followed the 2005 Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment, which identified litter contamination as a general problem in all European seas.

A consortium led by Milieu is currently supporting the European Commission in the assessment of the reports required under these articles, through the project ‘Support to the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive’.


Derelict fishing gear

Integration of environmental protection requirements into Community policies is an obligation under Article 6 of the Community Treaty. Under the ‘basic’ Common Fisheries Policy Regulation (2371/2002), measures should be taken for resource conservation and management purposes, and the limitation of the environmental impact of fishing (Article 1). As derelict fishing gear contributes to fishing mortality and has impacts on the wider marine environment, there is a clear legal basis for measures to address it.

The Commission Communication on Promoting more Environmentally-friendly Fishing Methods (EC, 2004) identified the need to address ghost fishing as part of the broader drive to tackle unwanted catches. It noted that there is a need to take measures to identify ghost fishing gear, to encourage the reporting of lost gear and to recover it from the sea bed. Regulation 356/2005 also lays down rules for the marking of passive gear and beam trawls in EC waters, while Regulation 1224/2009 contains several requirements aimed at preventing the ghost net phenomenon.


Legislation to prevent pollution from ships

The EU has adopted a set of rules to reinforce maritime safety and help prevent pollution from ships:

These Directives also aim to incorporate international ship-source pollution standards into EU law.