Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management

Facilitated by the Forum for Sustainability through Life Cycle Innovation (FSLCI) in close cooperation with La Red Iberoamericana de Ciclo de Vida (RICV) on Wednesday 14 of June 2017

with further modifications until 17 July 2017 for submission to The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment on 18 July 2017

We recently organized a workshop as a follow-up to the Medellin Declaration. Read more about the workshop here!


The Conferencia Internacional de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida en Latinoamérica (CILCA) is a bi-annual conference series taking place in different countries in Latin America. CILCA 2017 took place in Medellin, Colombia, from 12 – 15th of June and focused on the contribution of the life cycle community to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This has given us the opportunity to focus on analysing relevant aspects of the SDGs for the Latin American and Caribbean Region under the life cycle approach and deepening our understanding, and thus promoting, the generation of new ideas and insights to substantially and effectively contribute to National and Regional Agendas on Sustainable Development.

The Declaration

The Call for Action “Our Ocean, Our Future” of the Ocean Conference, organised by the United Nations in New York on 5-9 June 2017, calls on all stakeholders to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development by taking, inter alia, the following actions on an urgent basis, including by building on existing institutions and partnerships: accelerate actions to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities (including marine debris, plastics and microplastics); and promote waste prevention and minimization, including through incentivising market-based solutions to reduce waste and its generation, improving mechanisms for environmentally-sound waste management, disposal and recycling, and developing alternatives such as reusable or recyclable products, or products biodegradable under natural conditions.

This is especially important, given that our oceans are a big source of e.g. food, provide rainwater, facilitate the transport of goods, and serve for touristic purposes and therefore support the ecosystem services and contribute to the socio-economic environment. In this context we acknowledge that plastics in the oceans negatively affect not only the marine life and ecosystems overall, they also cause negative impacts on human health for example through the consumption of plastic fragments in seafood. Minimizing these impacts is crucial and we believe that in addition to efforts that promote a circular economy approach and are aimed towards more sustainable consumption patterns and lifestyle choices to decrease the dissipation of plastics, life cycle management has the potential to accelerate changes associated with design, manufacture, use and end of life management of plastics that will prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, and contribute to socio-economic development.

At the same time, we also acknowledge that currently life cycle assessment (LCA), as one of the most widely used environmental sustainability assessment tools, is not adequately addressing the impacts generated due to marine debris, plastics and microplastics. In addition, we are also not aware of any life cycle assessments on products that include plastics and adequately address the challenge of marine litter. Indeed, there is still an overall need to assess marine ecological impacts in life cycle assessment in a meaningful way[1].

Given the magnitude of the impacts caused by marine debris, plastics and microplastics in our oceans and as response to the public concern on these impacts echoed at the recent Ocean Conference, we are calling for:

  1. The generation of science-based data and information to support policy making and implementation of voluntary or mandatory regulations that support the principle of extended producer responsibility and thereby ensure the proper handling of plastics waste at the end of its life.
  2. The support for capacity building on the value of life cycle management for products that contain plastics to accelerate the necessary changes that prevent these plastics to become marine litter.
  3. Technical assistance to target the most vulnerable developing countries with coastal areas, especially the small island developing states such as in the Caribbean, taking into account the regional differences in terms of exposure to waste that is washed ashore, its impact and their capacity to address them.
  4. The development of a typology and nomenclature to define the various particles sizes types, including nanoparticles and other characteristics of plastic pollution, on a number of important categories, such as: purposely designed microplastics, waste from textile washing, emissions associated with transoceanic transport and sailing. We also call for a definition of a number of key production processes, as well as the development of an inventory of the risk that plastic ends up into the sea due to inadequately functioning waste and wastewater management systems. This typology should be regionalized by regions or countries, considering the regional differences in waste and wastewater management systems.
  5. The provision of guidance to life cycle assessment practitioners on how to estimate and calculate the fraction of the plastic that may end up in freshwater or marine environments, and in which size distribution.
  6. Losses caused by dissipative uses of materials in life cycle inventories to be considered.
  7. The development of adequate impact assessment models that may support a separate life cycle impact assessment midpoint category for marine litter or be integrated into existing impact categories. A new impact category would then have to contribute to ecosystem damages and loss of human health in endpoint methods. Development efforts could for example build on existing work on fishing nets loss as an additional impact in fisheries’ life cycle assessments.
  8. The development of regional characterization factors in life cycle impact assessment, subdividing the “ocean” in sub-compartments such as estuarine versus marine environments and considering the over 400 dead zones[2] in the world, in order to model more adequately the consequences on the respective marine ecosystems.
  9. Life Cycle Assessment case studies of products containing plastics that partially become marine litter to validate the developments foreseen. They could be conducted in cooperation with communities who are actively cleaning the beaches and thus have a good understanding of waste that has been washed ashore.
  10. The consideration of the impacts of marine litter in the development of emerging methods in social life cycle assessment.

Most importantly, we call upon the international donor community to continue to and strengthen their support for the implementation of Goal 12[3] (responsible consumption and production) and Goal 14[4] (life below water), in the context of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular by supporting applied research, capacity building and technical assistance on the measures mentioned above. These actions will allow changing our current consumption and production patterns in a way that results in significantly less environmental impacts on the ocean.

With this support, we are committed to create the science-based tools that will guide and accelerate actions on an urgent basis, including by strengthening existing institutions and partnerships, to develop approaches of assessing marine debris, plastics and microplastics with better inventory data and improved impact assessment methods as an environmental impact category in life cycle assessment. Such a process might also lead to the improvement of existing impact categories through regionalization of characterization factors and adding more precise emissions to the ocean sub-compartments. With this insight, we have a basis to further strengthen our efforts to promote extended producer responsibility in order to reduce marine debris, plastics and microplastics in the oceans. We are ready to include the topic in our work to foster sustainable life cycle innovations and to strengthen capacity building and technical assistance on how to promote waste prevention and minimization by taking a life cycle approach.

[1]Environ Int. 2016 Apr-May;89-90:48-61. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.12.033. Epub 2016 Jan 28. Towards a meaningful assessment of marine ecological impacts in life cycle assessment (LCA). Woods JS1, Veltman K2, Huijbregts MA3, Verones F4, Hertwich EG5.

[2] Diaz, R. J., & Rosenberg, R. (2008). Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems. science, 321(5891), 926-929.




Guido Sonnemann (Université de Bordeaux), Sonia Valdivia (World Resources Forum), Martina Prox (ifu Hamburg), Pia Wiche (Wiche Sustentabilidad), Christian Hasenstab (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), Melissa Diaz (Cooperativa Biklö), Claudia Peña (ADDERE Research and Technology), Nydia Suppen (CADIS – Center for LCA and Sustainable Design), Ian Vázquez-Rowe (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Isabel Quispe (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Cassia Ugaya (Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná), Antonio Barona (Vertech Group), Erasmo Cadena (Vertech Group), Juliana Rodrigues Vieira (Universidade Federal Fluminense), Andreas Moeller (Leuphana University), Holly Harris (EarthShift Global), Sébastien Humbert (Quantis), Natalia Duque-Ciceri (thinkstep), Mark Goedkoop (Pré Consultants), Joan Rieradevall Pons (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Carlos Naranjo (CILCA Organizer / GAIA Servicios Ambientales S.A.)

Please note that the declaration has been co-authored by the individuals listed here in personal capacity. Their endorsement does not constitute endorsement by their respective institutions.

Amended on 26.07.2017 (see comment 1)

Amended on 08.08.2017 (see comment 2)

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  1. James Fava 7 years ago

    Further to Philip’s comment I would like to note that upon review of the declaration, I noted that it called for “lifestyle choices to decrease the use of plastics“. Plastics can be applied in all kinds of applications that can lead to an enhanced sustainability performance of products. For example, plastics application within the mobility sector decreases the weight of vehicles which in turn help to improve fuel efficiency. Moreover, efforts are underway to develop plastics responsibly made from renewable resources and ones which are biodegradable at the end of life. I feel that that statement is rather misleading and should focus more on the ensuring that plastics end up in the right channels at the end of their life. To address this issue, we will amend the declaration to replace „use“ with „dissipation“. Additionally, we will include the word – ‘design’ – in the same sentence to reflect an acceleration of changes in the design, manufacture, use and end of life management of plastics. One final thought, our work a few years ago on Packaging for Food/Beverage Applications – Mining Knowledge from LCA, revealed that policies based on life cycle approaches better avoid unanticipated consequences compared with those based on more limited considerations (e.g., single impacts such as waste or GHG measures; or single life cycle stage – such as manufacturing, or end of life).

    We acknowledge that these adjustments change the meaning of the sentence. However, they fall within the broader context of solutions and we fell that these changes are more in line with the overall message of the declaration. Thanks for your understanding!

  2. Author
    Philip Strothmann 7 years ago

    Dear all,

    we would like to note that in discussions on the LCA Mailing List it has been highlighted, that the old point 4) of the declaration “The extension of the area of protection (AoP) of natural resources by including secondary resources from the sea as an additional resource to consider.” was misleading. We acknowledge the misleading character of the paragraph and hence in order to allow for a maximum of interested members of our life cycle community to sign the declaration and to avoid entering into a discussion on how to clarify / rephrase the paragraph in question, we have decided to delete the old point 4 of the declaration altogether.

    Our main objective of the Declaration is raising awareness on the need for considering adequately Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management through communication and collaboration on a global level. The academic question on how to classify secondary resources from the sea with regards to their value as a natural resource substituting primary ones is clearly less important and can hence be deleted from the declaration.

    We invite you to provide comments also directly under the Declaration here and sign it, if you agree with the overall objective and statements expressed in the revised Declaration.

    Kind regards,

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