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Marine pollution: urgent EU and Baltic States’ problem

Eugene Eteris, BC, Copenhagen, 15.04.2013.Print version
Marine litter – unfortunately – is emblematic of totally inadequate waste management on land. It is known that 80 % of marine litter is estimated to come from land-based sources; most of that litter is plastic waste. This clearly means that the EU priority has to be a comprehensive approach that targets plastic waste.

At the International Conference on Prevention and Management of Marine Litter in European Seas", Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment in his speech “Let’s Free our Oceans from this Plague” (Berlin, 12 April 2013) underlined the existing marine pollution problems and facilities for resolution.

 

Thanks to the commitment of enthusiasts, the issue of marine litter is now high of the political agenda. This is something that both the EU and member states can be proud of, something which gives satisfaction. In 2010, during the OSPAR Ministerial Conference in Bergen, the participants were 'served' a plastic breakfast, comparable to what a local seabird, the Northern Fulmar, has on average in its stomach. That breakfast was not easy to digest.

 

Captain Charles Moore is the person who identified the large ocean systems of rotating currents and the so-called "plastic soup" which is created by human waste. And the extent of the problem of marine litter all over the world is becoming extremely urgent for decision.


Global and European problem

The Rio+20 Summit last year showed the extent to which marine litter has now become an issue of truly global concern; the summit made new targets agreed by the international community. At Rio, the world was committed to take action and come to a significant reduction of marine litter by 2025. In line with that commitment, the European Commission suggested, in its proposal for a 7th Environment Action Program, the setting-up of an EU-wide quantitative reduction target for marine litter. In a nutshell, in less than 3 years, the EU focus has shifted from problems to solutions, which could be regarded as an achievement.

 

But one can say that marine litter is, unfortunately, emblematic of the present wasteful economy.

 

The EU economy still generates far too much waste: Europeans use 16 tons of resources per person per year, of which 6 tons go to waste. Using resources in a more efficient way is not only a moral duty but it is also an economic imperative if the EU wants to overcome the current crisis and re-orient its economies towards long-term sustainable growth.

 

Everybody wants to see an economy which minimises waste; one which uses just the amount of resources that are needed; one that stops wasting existing resources.  

Reference: SPEECH/13/312 Event Date: 12/04/2013


Marine pollution

Marine litter is –unfortunately- also emblematic of totally inadequate waste management on land. It is known that 80 % of marine litter is estimated to come from land-based sources; most of that litter is plastic waste. This clearly means that the EU priority has to be a comprehensive approach that targets plastic waste.


Commission and member states’ efforts

In March 2013, the European Commission published a Green Paper on a "European strategy on plastic waste in the environment". The purpose was to open the discussion and consultations on the best way forward to tackle all aspects of plastic waste, including new ways to increase recycling and waste prevention.

 

Later in 2013 (precisely on 30 September) the Commission will hold a conference on the results of the consultation and the outcomes will feed into the EU’s marine waste review which will be announced for 2014.

 

Litter prevention is not a far‑fetched concept; it is actually happening! Some states are among the front-runners, e.g. Slovenia. In 2010 and 2012, an initiative named "Let’s Do It! Slovenia" mobilized nearly 15% of the country’s population during one day to clean up the rubbish dumped in the countryside and in towns and cities. It was important that these 15% made real change in peoples' minds. The real change is in peoples’ awareness of waste and what it does to countryside and the seas. Clean-up campaigns are formidable tools to raise public awareness and involve citizens, and this is why the Commission has promoted a Clean-Up Day at EU level. People actually like to be involved and should be, because without them no policy can be successful; change needs to go beyond legislation.


Private sector’s efforts

The private sector, and in particular the packaging industry, also has a key role to play. Nearly 60% of European plastic waste is packaging waste; hence, industry has to take part in the solution.

 

The EU needs to make a distinct effort to reduce “over-packaging”, with the objective to package as smart as possible. Packaging is regarded fine where it clearly serves a useful purpose but it should be avoided where it is simply superfluous.

 

At the same time, the EU needs to increase the recycling of plastic packaging, which shall start in the product design phase. Plastic packaging should be designed in a way that it is easily and efficiently recycled. For example, recycling can be made easier by avoiding dark pigment that is difficult to remove and results in 'unattractive' grey recycled plastics; plastics should be chemically simpler and cleaner; and multi-layer packaging material should be designed in a way that it does not hamper recycling.

 

Litter prevention is very successful in some member states, and positive examples and best practices shall be emulated. The Commission is aware that one common feature of success is a well-functioning waste management infrastructure: regular waste collection, separate collection bins, public waste collection points for glass, metal, paper, solvents, bulky rubbish, all of which mean less littering.

 

But addressing marine litter in European seas needs a vital step further with a stronger cooperation at the regional level and at the global level. In the Commission’s Roadmap "Towards a Resource Efficient Europe" published in 2011, the EU committed to contribute to the development of the regional action plans. The further development of these regional action plans on marine litter with a very active involvement of the four regional seas conventions is a good example of how to cooperate within the European context.

 

The EU also wants to extend the promising cooperation to the global level, e.g. the UNEP intends to take steps for further development of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter.


The role of management

Waste management is an integral part of the wider resource efficiency agenda; taking waste as a resource helps to eradicate the problem turning it to an easy solution. So if litter is "waste that is in the wrong place", then the same logic can be followed allowing valuable resources to recuperate.  

 

The Commission encourages the member states to spread best practices through possible networks. Making best practice systematically and proactively available to others has a huge potential to make fast progress in the fight against marine litter.

 

The commitment in the 7th Environmental Action Program, the upcoming review of the waste legislation and the further implementation of the Marine Strategy clearly set the agenda for the European Commission. And the EU will continue to support the regional seas conventions in the implementation of their action plans.

 

Reference: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-312_en.htm?locale=en







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