September 2016

Urgent Rethink Required to Address Marine Plastic Problem

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Eunomia has highlighted the challenges European countries face when tackling the marine plastic problem and the need for alternative action.

The call came today at a high-profile marine litter conference organised by the company at the Brussels Press Club, attended by MEPs, NGOs and plastics industry representatives.

Delegates attending the discussion heard that a “measures-led” approach, focused on implementing “best available technique” measures, will lead to the quickest progress towards addressing the 12 million tonnes of plastic that flows into our oceans each year. Setting targets, by contrast, could involve each country in difficult and expensive monitoring work needed to assess progress – delaying real action and diverting effort.

Chris Sherrington, Principal Consultant at Eunomia and a leader in this area, stressed that:

“Marine litter is inherently mobile, and the amount found in a country’s waters may not reflect the amount of litter that country produces, or its success in reducing its emissions.”

Speaking at the event, he explained that targets can have a role where monitoring is easier. Most marine litter comes from onshore, and while litter on land is not straightforward to measure, it’s easier to assess than litter in the marine environment. The European Parliament’s call for a target to reduce land-based litter by 50% by 2030 could therefore lead to significant progress in tackling the marine plastics problem. Importantly, the amount of litter on land is something that individual countries have greater control over.

Chris added:

“A “Best Available Technique” approach has been used in the past to address industrial emissions. Adopting this approach to tackling marine plastics will allow effort and resources to be focused on measures that are very likely to reduce the problem instead of being diverted into simply assessing how much worse it is getting.”

Ricardo Serrão Santos MEP, the keynote speaker at the event, said:

“Only the atomic energy and chlorofluorocarbons were faster than plastics to transform themselves from a mind-blowing human invention into a global threat.”

Anne-France Woestyn, Policy Officer at the European Commission’s DG MARE explained other initiatives currently in place to address the problem:

“Major EU initiatives, both current and in prospect, aim to reduce marine plastics. In particular there is the recent Circular Economy package, the upcoming Plastic Strategy, the ongoing revision of the Port Reception Facilities Directive, an enhanced Global Ocean Governance, initiatives to remove lost gears and marine litter from the sea by fishermen, and support to research projects in the field.”

Eunomia has prepared an accompanying report explaining the rationale for its recommendations, which can be downloaded here.