Cities as drivers of change: Better urban planning to prevent marine litter

The Marine litter got international attention when few hundred water experts gathered in St.Petersburg between 22–23 March to the Baltic Sea Days. HELCOM organized a roundtable on marine litter and how their Marine Liter Action Plan is implemented in regional level.

At the same time, the world celebrated the International Water Day that is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. In St. Petersburg, especially importance of the goal number 14 “the oceans goal” was stressed that seeks the conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

In the HELCOM´s roundtable, two water projects were presented: The Blastic and iWater – Integrated Storm Water Management project. They are both funded by the Interreg Central Baltic Programme and granted with the EU´s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region´s Flagship status. The both projects have much in common – they want to create higher quality, cleaner and safer urban environment and increase urban sustainability.

Blastic project is a great way to bring up the detailed information how the litter ends up in water environments. The project demonstrates how plastic waste in urban areas finds its way to the Baltic Sea and becomes marine litter. This is exactly the kind of information that city planners would need when they plan more attractive cities and communication departments would need for awareness raising purposes targeted to citizens.

In the iWater, seven Central Baltic cities together with Aalto University and Union of the Baltic Cites, Sustainable Cities Commission, develop integrated storm water plans to these cities using holistic approach and green infrastructure to meet the increasing flooding and heavy rainfalls.

Marine litter and storm waters are closely linked – almost 80 percent of the marine litter is land-based. Therefore, it is important to point out that littering is an issue in the water areas but also inland matter due to inadequate waste logistics.

When we break the cause that is leading to littering we notice urban planning has a big role in preventing the littering. The challenge is the human behavior – how we plan, create and use our environment. As stated short – by better urban planning, we decrease the amount of litter flowing into the seas, oceans and other water bodies. Therefore, cities are the drivers of the change in collaboration with the NGOs, states and other institutions.

Photo collage: Baltic Sea Days in St.Peterburg explored the current maritime litter status

There is also a fruitful political will in EU level, since, among others, the current Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella is personally interested in the topic. Almost a year ago, City of Turku hosted the EU´s largest Conference on Maritime policies European Maritime Day Conference, where the Commissioner Karmenu Vella highlighted the marine litter problem and he has been actively promoting the topic.

The borders in the sea are artificial. We should change our minds from sectorial thinking to more holistic approach when dealing with the environment and climate change adaptation.

See video by Lauri Tujula: Clean Beach Litter free Baltic Sea 2016:


Communications Coordinator

Union of the Baltic Cities, Sustainable Cities Commission

Anna Kotaviita has around 10 year of experience in variouscommunication tasks. She works with the sustainable matters in the Union of the Baltic Cities, Sustainable Cities Commission as communication coordinator. Anna can´t think the life without sea – she has grown in the archipelago, and she thinks that the clean water is also a human right question.