More protection for our oceans
The United Nations has made 8 June World Oceans Day to call attention to an increasingly vulnerable marine eco-system. Globally an estimated 100 million tons of waste is having a devastating impact on our marine environment.
Land-sourced plastic waste makes up the largest share of the waste entering European seas on a daily basis. The main sources are individuals like tourists or participants in major events, large facilities like harbours or waste water treatment plants, and municipalities with insufficient waste management or dumpsites near the coast.
This is confirmed by Oeko-Institut’s recent study “Land-Sourced Litter (LSL) in the marine environment”, which focuses on the waste that enters the European seas – the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea – from the land. A workshop was held in mid-March 2013 based on the results of the report; stakeholders along the entire value chain from plastic production to the recovery of waste, NGOs, researchers and policymakers discussed possible options for action.
Finding joint ways towards less waste
The goal of the workshop was to find possible courses of joint action and solutions to four key questions: how can marine litter (marine debris) be reduced, how should waste management be structured so that less plastic waste enters the oceans; how should materials or items be best designed so that they cause the lowest possible environmental impact and what should done about the marine litter that already exists.
Cooperations with the DLRG coast guard, coastal communities or event organisers could reduce land-based sources of marine litter. A systematic analysis of how plastics degrade in the oceans could serve as a basis for designing products so that they are less harmful to the environment.
Researchers at Oeko-Institut are calling for governments and stakeholders to promptly make agreements that are geared to initiating and pursuing necessary measures.
The project workshop – which was commissioned by the German, Austrian and Swiss plastics industry and was organised and moderated by Oeko-Institut and Team Ewen – was an important step towards establishing a more sustainable management of plastic waste and greater protection for the seas and oceans.
The ocean as dumping ground
Only a small portion of the waste dumped in seas and oceans floats on the surface of the water (floating litter) and is washed up on the beach. Approx. 70 per cent sinks to the ocean or sea bed. Many marine species becomes tangled in the debris, swallow fragments or think it is food. This leads to injuries which can be fatal and the pollutants in the plastics entering the food chain. In the medium term it is expected that marine debris will significantly increase because the consumption of plastic packaging is growing in densely populated newly industrializing and developing countries where proper recycling and recovery schemes are not being implemented.
Contact at Oeko-Institut
Dr. Georg Mehlhart
Researcher in Infrastructure & Enterprises Division
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt office