Every year, millions of tonnes of litter are generated through a variety of human activities. Unfortunately, a significant fraction of this litter is not recycled, stored or destroyed but instead ends up in the ocean and on our beaches via rivers, wind and sewage pipes. Up to 49% of this marine litter consists of single-use plastic items, think of plastic bags, drink bottles, caps and lids, cigarette buds, cotton bud sticks as well as straws and plastic cutlery . The prevalence of these items can be seen on our map of the week. It shows the number of plastic bags per 100 m stretch of beach along the European coasts.
While the usefulness of these single-use plastic items is short-lived, they can have long-term, dire consequences after they have been discarded as litter. Not only does marine litter clutter up our beaches, but it also threatens marine life that may ingest or get entangled in the rubbish, it destroys marine habitats, and it may even harm human health by exposing us to harmful chemicals ingested by seafood. As a result of this, the economic cost of marine litter is estimated to be between €259 million and €695 million, mainly in damages to the tourism and fisheries sectors. Furthermore, marine litter also affects our climate as the loss of about a million tonnes of recyclable plastic material at sea approximately equals the CO2 emission of 1 million cars.
In order to address this alarming problem, the EU’s Plastics Strategy aims to make all plastic packaging on the EU market recyclable by 2030. As part of this strategy, the Single-Use Plastics Directive seeks to reduce the top ten single-use plastic items found on EU beaches as well as abandoned, lost and disposed of fishing gear. This has led to the adoption of an EU-wide ban on single-use plastics in 2019. With the adoption of a new Circular Economy Action Plan in March of 2020, one of the main pillars of the EU Green Deal, the EU aims to further realise these commitments. But also you can help in tackling the marine litter problem by taking part in this year’s online edition of the #EUBeachCleanUp. Each week, there is a new challenge you can participate and in September, you can join local #EUBeachCleanup events. More information on the challenges and the events can be found here.
The data in this map are provided by EMODnet.