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Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Plastic bottle along the shoreline.
Catherine Sheila/Pexels

Oceanic Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution in communities, waterways and oceans is often characterized as a wicked problem. Estimates suggest at least 11 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste enter the oceans annually, negatively impacting both marine ecosystems and potentially public health. Scholars have suggested that plastics can be considered a persistent organic pollutant, because once in the environment plastic waste does not readily degrade, but instead, generates smaller microplastics and nanoplastics. Plastics have been found in the deep sea, the atmosphere, in Arctic sea ice, and in human blood, placenta, and feces, with exposures disproportionately identified in lower-income communities and countries.

Leakage into the environment can occur at every stage of the plastics life cycle, from the production of petro-chemicals that become plastic products, to consumption and ultimately disposal, requiring solutions from a wide range of actors, from policy makers, private companies, communities and researchers, to name a few.

The Nicholas Institute is working with partner organizations to help identify how decision makers on the local, national, and international levels have responded to this challenge at every stage of the life cycle of plastics, and to understand which responses have been most effective at achieving pollution reduction and linked socioeconomic goals.


Plastics Policy Inventory

The Plastics Policy Inventory is an updateable and searchable database consisting of public policy documents targeting plastic pollution. The inventory currently about 900 downloadable policies, in over 35 languages, with the intent to address plastic pollution by subnational, national, and international level governments. The Effectiveness Study Library compiles literature examining these policies.


Oceans@Duke is a multi-disciplinary community of Duke’s scholars working on challenges to sustainable use of the oceans.

Plastic Pollution Prevention and Collection Technology Inventory

The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Collection Technology Inventory was created to aid local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders in identifying technologies that may help to remediate hotspots of marine plastic pollution. The searchable inventory contains 52 technologies to either 1) prevent plastic pollution from entering the environment or 2) collect existing marine plastic pollution.

Plastic Pollution Working Group

Plastic has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives that global plastic production approached the combined weight of the human population in 2015. Unfortunately, much of this plastic ends up in the environment as litter, and it is estimated that 710 million metric tons of plastic waste will enter the environment by 2040, even with immediate and concerted action.