One of today’s major global challenges is plastic production, waste, and its associated health and environmental impacts.


million tonnes  
produced every year

Plastic that ends up in landfills can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, which means we’re leaving behind problems for many future generations to come. If we don’t change our practices, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be roughly 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills and the environment.

Multilateral Environmental Agreements, or MEAs, can help regulate plastics by providing an international framework for the many environmental sectors impacted by them. Through InforMEA, the United Nations database on MEAs, you can search and retrieve this information.

One of the key issues with plastics is the amount that ends up in the ocean, totaling more than  8 million tonnes every year. Plastics can end up in the ocean from many sources, like storm run-off and waterways, or being dumped from ships. Yet the entire body of water will feel its impacts.

8 million

tonnes every year
Harms over 600 species
Causes an estimated $13 billion
of damage to ecosystems every year
Hurts fishing and tourism industries
Impacts human health through seafood consumption

Global and regional MEAs offer flexible legal frameworks to address these issues

UN Convention on the
Law of the Seas
UN Watercourses Convention

Take MEAs on chemicals and waste as an example.


As of 2019, the Basel Convention now includes some plastics as hazardous waste, which helps regulate their movement across borders.


The Stockholm Convention regulates Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which can leach from plastics left in water.

These leached POPs accumulate in the tissues of marine species and work their way up the food chain, eventually causing significant damage to the animals and people who ingest them, with notable health impacts on the nervous system, lungs, and reproductive organs.

Plastics are also a serious concern for achieving targets set out in the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. Plastic production and incineration contribute to climate change, and by 2050 are predicted to emit 2.75 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. That’s the equivalent of running 615 coal power plants for a year.

International goals and policies also play an important role. SDG 12 for example – Sustainable Consumption and Production – emphasizes that it is also up to consumers to make sustainable choices.

These international treaties and policies, however, cannot be successful unless supported by national legislation.

127 countries

have legislation to regulate plastic bags.
The most common form of regulation is banning
free retail distribution.

51 countries

require implementation of recycling targets

National legislation and voluntary action are most effective when undertaken within a broader framework of international obligations and concerted action.

InforMEA hosts a detailed database of relevant national legislation and international goals and policies, alongside the major MEAs tackling plastic pollution through their different focuses on protecting oceans and seas, regulating chemicals and wastes, or addressing climate change.

You can use InforMEA’s comprehensive database to explore this complex web of law and policy to craft effective solutions. You can find out more about MEAs on plastics regulation, as well as many other types of legislation on