15 Jul 2021
Presenting recommendations to tackle the problem of polluted waters
Although the challenge to manage the production, use and fate of the most polluting human-made items on our planet still remains a challenge, there’s a new study which informs about urgently needed actions.
Prof. Andrés Cózar Cabañas and postdoctoral researcher Carmen Morales-Caselleс from The University of Cadiz, European University of the Seas and The University Institute of Marine Research are the lead authors of the study, recently published in Nature Sustainability. The article revealed an inshore-offshore sorting system from global classification of ocean litter.
The study found that a set of plastic items from take-out food and beverages are the main polluters of nearshore areas, followed by the litter resulting from fishing activities. That gives the opportunity for land-sourced plastic to spread to the open ocean, mostly as small plastic fragments. In 2010, total plastic waste generated was estimated to equal the global production of plastic materials, with around 8 million metric tons of plastic waste entering the ocean from land-based sources.
Relevant action plans against plastic are already in force; however, market-restriction actions often focus on superfluous or easily replaceable items such as single-use straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers. While these actions are welcome, the authors demonstrate that these actions do not address the core problem. They have a couple other recommendations tackle the issue:
1. The strategies of replacing top polluting plastic items by similar products made of more-easily degradable materials should account for all life-cycle impacts on ecosystems, including those derived from additional requirements of energy and natural resources.
2. Given that waste avoidance is the most effective way to minimize litter pollution, we advocate regulatory bans on avoidable items as the preferred action in the management of take-out items (for example, single-use bags).
3. While a broad implementation of the extended-producer-responsibility principle is rightly considered a cornerstone of a circular economy, the results of the study suggest that an extended consumer responsibility on essential take-out products, such as through a deposit–refund levy, may be justified on the basis of the extra risk of leakage to the environment of these particular products.
On the other hand, according to the authors and the recent amendment to MARPOL Annex V, marine activities are the major source of ocean litter. The amendment includes mandatory plans and registers of on-board garbage management for a wider fraction of the international fleet. In addition, the authors suggest that these actions could be reinforced by monitoring refuse returned to port by vessels, improving port reception facilities or implementing an overarching flat rate for waste landed, irrespective of quantity.
Resolving the issue with marine litter pollution has become one of the primary precedence worldwide, as recognized in the United Nations Ocean Decade Challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 14 on ‘life under water’ and SDG 12 on ‘responsible production and consumption’). Global efforts to address this challenge yield large amounts of litter data in the form of item inventories. However, this information remains fragmented due to the differences in methods and criteria to categorize litter. The authors provide an approach to harmonize, share and integrate plastic litter inventories across regions and environments. The analysis of item composition proved to provide a useful tool to fingerprint marine litter and identify sources and delivery pathways. The resulting insights into how plastic enters and moves in the marine environment is crucial to make progress towards a circular economy and the sustainable production and consumption of plastics and other materials contributing to marine litter.
The CLAIM project finds these recommendations very useful, as they coincide with one of our project’s main objectives, to influence the producer and customer behaviour towards more conscious and environmentally-friendly actions.
To read the full study and get more knowledge on the inshore–offshore sorting system click here.