February 2016

European Commission publishes Eunomia Marine Litter Report


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The European Commission has published a comprehensive report by Eunomia, undertaken to support the development of measures to combat a range of marine litter sources.

The study had a two-fold overall objective:

  • To develop possible actions to address sea-based sources of litter, notably through improved port reception facilities, and by tackling sources of marine litter from the fisheries and aquaculture industries; and
  • To carry out a preliminary scoping exercise for options to achieve a phase-out or ban of microplastics in cosmetic products.

The Port Reception Facilities (PRF) Directive aims to reduce illegal discharges at sea from ships using EU ports by improving the availability and use of port reception facilities. Eunomia developed a series of options based on different types of cost recovery systems to incentivise vessels to deliver waste to ports, while respecting the polluter pays principle, in line with the requirements of the Directive.

Dr Chiarina Darrah, Senior Consultant at Eunomia, and lead author for this section of the report, said:

“A sufficient financial incentive for vessels to deliver their waste to port will prevent the discharge of waste at sea. Our analysis demonstrates that such an incentive can only be obtained by the application of a deposit or penalty-based system set at an adequate level.

“This feature can be added alongside other charging structures and compliant vessels will not be out of pocket. Making sure incentives are correctly aligned is essential where detecting illegal discharge of solid waste at sea is nigh on impossible.”

The European Commission’s marine litter reduction target includes a proposal to reduce fishing gear found at sea by 30% by 2020. In addition, under the OSPAR Regional Action Plan on marine litter, the European Commission agreed to co-lead work to identify options to address key waste items from fishing and aquaculture. These would include deposit schemes, voluntary agreements and extended producer responsibility. Some of the most promising measures identified by Eunomia include:

  • Zoning controls for gear conflict hotspots;
  • Mandating all vessels to log lost gear via GPS for later retrieval;
  • Mandating reporting of gear loss and sharing of this information to reduce gear conflict;
  • Use of market-based instruments such as advanced disposal fees, deposit refund schemes and manufacturer buy-back schemes to reduce litter and increase recycling;
  • Removal of financial disincentives to bringing waste ashore including litter found at sea; and
  • Reduction in the use of plastic components of fishing gear that are designed to be lost or that break apart during their use, e.g. plastic dolly rope, and polystyrene floats and buoys not sealed in a protective cover.

George Cole, Consultant at Eunomia, and lead author for this element of the report noted that:

“Many of these methods align well with industry best practice. For example, leaving passive fishing equipment in the ocean for no more than a day both reduces the chance of losing the equipment and ensures that the catch is fresh.”

Microplastic particles are found in a number of cosmetic products. Eunomia estimated the proportion and quantity of microplastics in the marine environment from such products, and reviewed the success of existing efforts to secure a voluntary industry phase out. The results of the research show that while cosmetic microplastics are not the largest microplastic source, they are still significant. Between 2,400 and 8,600 tonnes enter the marine environment from Europe every year.

Simon Hann, lead author for this part of the study, said that:

“While industry action is reducing the amount of microplastics emitted from cosmetics, we make a number of recommendations in the report, including agreeing on an improved definition of cosmetic microplastics. The current definition used by industry, against which they report progress towards their voluntary phase out, only includes ‘rinse off’ products, excludes particles below 1μm, and permits ‘biodegradable’ polymers without an accompanying definition of biodegradability.”

The report adds to Eunomia’s growing track record in marine (and terrestrial) litter research and policy development for a range of clients in the public and private sectors, as well as for NGOs.

Dr Chris Sherrington, Principal Consultant at Eunomia, who directed the study, said:

“We are delighted to again have supported the Commission as they consider how best to tackle the growing problem of marine litter. The report delivers a range of insights into the mechanisms by which we might prevent marine litter in ways that are practical and cost-effective.”

The report is available for download here.