Marine Anthropogenic Litter

pp 367-394

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.


The Economics of Marine Litter

  • Stephanie NewmanAffiliated withInstitute for European Environmental Policy Email author 
  • , Emma WatkinsAffiliated withInstitute for European Environmental Policy
  • , Andrew FarmerAffiliated withInstitute for European Environmental Policy
  • , Patrick ten BrinkAffiliated withInstitute for European Environmental Policy
  • , Jean-Pierre SchweitzerAffiliated withInstitute for European Environmental Policy


This chapter aims to provide an overview of research into quantifying the economic impacts of marine litter. From an environmental economics perspective it introduces the difficulties in measuring the economic costs of marine litter; reviews those sectors where these costs are notable; and considers policy instruments, which can reduce these costs. Marine litter is underpinned by dynamic and complex processes, the drivers and impacts of which are multi-scalar, trans-boundary, and play out in both marine and terrestrial environments. These impacts include economic costs to expenditure, welfare and lost revenue. In most cases, these are not borne by the producers or the polluters. In industries such as fisheries and tourism the costs of marine litter are beginning to be quantified and are considerable. In other areas such as impacts on human health, or more intangible costs related to reduced ecosystem services, more research is evidently needed. As the costs of marine litter are most often used to cover removing debris or recovering from the damage which they have caused, this expenditure represents treatment rather than cure, and although probably cheaper than inaction do not present a strategy for cost reduction. Economic instruments, such as taxes and charges addressing the drivers of waste, for instance those being developed for plastic bags, could be used to reduce the production of marine litter and minimise its impacts. In any case, there remain big gaps in our understanding of the harm caused by marine litter, which presents difficulties when attempting to both quantify its economic costs, and develop effective and efficient instruments to reduce them.


Marine litter Environmental economics Economic instruments Plastic bags Waste Polluter pays