Marine Plastic Waste

Understanding Linkages of Global and Local Plastic Management Strategies

The massive pollution of the world’s oceans with plastic debris is an emerging global challenge, which motivated this particular sub-project. Everyday practices (e.g. consumer patterns) and the quality of waste management are primary causes of this pollution. The plastic debris, e.g. packaging materials, fishing nets and small plastic fragments (microplastic), have an impact on the marine flora and fauna. Thus, the global community has already adopted a series of environmental conventions to protect the seas and oceans, such as the international convention MARPOL. In addition, a number of regional conventions have come into force, such as OSPAR and HELCOM or the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. At the same time, there are a great number of regional initiatives that, among other things, organize clean-up and awareness campaigns. Still, a comprehensive and sustainable governance of plastic remains an ambitious task, since many different interests need to be balanced against one another and clear responsibilities have to be defined.
This sub-project focuses on the implementation of management strategies that firstly govern existing plastic waste in international waters and secondly minimize the entry pathways into the aquatic environment. It seeks to understand the linkage between global regulation and local initiatives.


This sub-project aims to analyze the connections between global regulation and local initiatives as arenas of negotiation on how to manage open-access resources (e.g. oceans). Starting points for a long term sustainable management of plastic (debris) will be assessed on a global scale, while on the local level best practices for an effective and ecofriendly waste and water management will be developed. Moreover, there will be a discussion of everyday practices and vulnerabilities of local communities and their link to plastic consumption.
Research questions are:

• How to govern plastic (waste)?
• How to set up valid cooperation networks?
• What are the risks for local communities arising from plastic patches, and what are the linkages to everyday practices, interests and specific local environmental conditions?
• In the context of development cooperation: How are best practices developed for an integrated water and waste management?
• What relevance do best practices have for global action plans?


An integral part of this research will be case studies in areas with high pollution rates. A mixed methods approach will be applied by combining semi-structured and in-depth interviews, participant observation, participatory mapping and other qualitative social science methods. Moreover, this is a problem-orientated and participatory approach, where proposed solutions are developed together with the users of resources, stakeholders and experts.
This sub-project is located at the interface of the other sub-projects. It will provide information on risk perceptions of local communities (sustainable consumption and risk assessment of microplastic) and their best practice mitigation strategies (sustainable consumption and alternative material). Plus, it gives an overview on the architecture of a global plastic governance. Both perspectives are a valuable input to extend the conceptual work on systemic risks and shared risks.

This sub-project will be performed at the ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt.
Heide Kerber is working on this sub-project.


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