International law instruments to address the plastic soup

Luisa Cortat Simonetti Goncalves, Michael Faure*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The problem of plastic pollution in the oceans has been increasingly evident after 1997, when the great concentrations of plastics in the oceans were initially publicized. Still, there is a substantial lack of scientific data and research about the sources of plastic pollution, destinations and consequences to nature and human life. The only certainty is that the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean is alarming and likely will not decrease anytime soon because of its durability and large range of use.
Estimates show that, each year, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean and, if no action is taken, this is expected to double by 2030, and quadruple by 2050. As a result, by 2050 there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean. This Article focuses on international legal pathways to face such a problem. It constitutes the basis for further research that aims at constructing a legal framework to adequately face the problem of plastic pollution of the oceans. In order to do so, the first step is to unveil the already existing international instruments - both hard and soft law. It is indispensable to accomplish this intermediate step because a great part of such pollution is in international waters, where the only legal regulations and remedies applicable are those from public international law. Solely through this state-of-the-art approach is it possible to analyze critically its possibilities and limitations, as well as to suggest how to proceed. Therefore, this Article first analyzes whether the international instruments deal with the plastic soup issue, both from the ex ante and from the ex post perspectives. After showing that the current efforts are
not compatible with the current harms and threats of plastic pollution of the oceans, we suggest possible pathways and approaches to surpass the obstacles and to start facing the problem of plastic pollution of the oceans.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)871-948
JournalWilliam & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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