Plastic should be a resource, not marine litter


Plastic marine litter is a critical issue around the world. In 2015, 322 million tons of plastic was produced and only 14% of it was utilized after its initial use – which means that most of it remains in the environment as a pollutant.

An estimated 5–12 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. To protect the world’s oceans, and maintain biodiversity, it is important to organize our lives on this planet in a way that would prevent consumption waste from ending up in our rivers, lakes, and seas.

The collection of marine litter alone will not solve the problem – the solution lies in rethinking the life cycle of plastic in a way that it could be efficiently utilised and collected before it ends up in the sea. Therefore, we need to start by analysing the sources and pathways of plastic on dry land, which, thankfully, the BLASTIC project is also taking on.

An estimated 80% of marine plastic originates from land-based sources and plastic now makes up the majority of all marine debris. Plastic decomposes very slowly in the natural environment and can be toxic. Animals, birds, and fish can get entangled in marine litter (e.g. packaging straps and net fragments) or swallow plastic, mistaking it for food. Ingested waste can cause them to suffocate or starve, as such materials are not digestible, and lack nutrients. It can also cause other physical traumas and chemical damages. Through the food chain, these harmful substances can also make their way back to our dining tables.

The issue of marine litter is one of the central themes of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive which requires Member States to ensure a good environmental status for their marine areas by 2020 at the latest.

In addition, the methods to reduce marine litter are also addressed in the Circular Economy Action Plan, especially in one of its measures – the upcoming Plastics Strategy, aimed at improving the recycling of plastics. This entails an important shift in focus – a transition from managing the consequences of waste pollution to the upcycling of waste as secondary resource.

Plastic is plastic, regardless of whether it is in use or not, and as such it remains a resource. We are daily surrounded by numerous plastic objects, and therefore we must commit to smart collection and utilization of this existing resource.

Marko Pomerants is the Estonian Minister of the Environment. In this blog post he shares his ideas on the importance of tackling plastic waste in the Baltic Sea and in marine environments in general in the framework of the informal meeting of EU environment ministers held on April 25-26, 2017 in Malta where climate change adaptation strategies, and the protection of the marine environment, focusing more specifically on marine litter, and the upcoming EU Plastics Strategy, were discussed.