Today and tomorrow, the Minister of the Environment Marko Pomerants will be taking part in the informal meeting of EU environment ministers to discuss climate change adaptation strategies, and the protection of the marine environment, focusing more specifically on marine litter, and the upcoming EU Plastics Strategy.
“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 utilised 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 organise 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 analysingthe life cycle of plastic on dry land,” said Pomerants.
An estimated 80% of marine plastic originates from land-based sources, whereas 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 (eg. 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 toensure 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 a resource. Daily we are surrounded by numerous plastic objects, and therefore we must commit to smart collection and utilisation of existing resources.
The EU environment ministers will additionally discuss strategies for fulfilling the commitments taken under the Paris Agreement, specifically with regard to climate change adaptation. According to Pomerants, adaptation to the effects of climate change is a global challenge that all countries must actively pursue, with the key factor being efficient international cooperation.
The informal meeting of the ministers of the environment of the EU is held from 25 to 26 April in Malta.