The Mediterranean Sea is turning into a dangerous plastic trap, with record levels of pollution from microplastics threatening marine species and human health.
Today, plastic represents 95 per cent of the waste floating in the Mediterranean and lying on its beaches.
Excessive plastic use, poor waste management and mass tourism are having a dramatic impact on one of the most visited regions in the world. Summer tourists alone cause a 40 per cent increase in marine litter.
WWF has just released a report – Out of the plastic trap: saving the Mediterranean from plastic pollution.
Large plastic pieces injure, suffocate and often kill marine animals, including protected and endangered species, such as sea turtles and monk seals. Today, half of all sea turtles have ingested plastics and 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.
But it is microplastics – smaller and more insidious fragments – that have reached record levels with a concentration of 1.25 million fragments per km2 in the Mediterranean Sea, almost four times higher than that of the “plastic island” found in the North Pacific Ocean. By entering the food chain, these fragments threaten an increasing number of animal species as well as people.
In Europe we produce an enormous amount of plastic waste, the majority of which is sent to landfills, resulting in millions of tonnes of plastic entering the Mediterranean Sea each year. Out of the 27 million tonnes of plastic waste produced each year in Europe, only a third is recycled; half of all plastic waste in Italy, France and Spain ends up in landfills. Recycled plastics currently account for only 6 per cent of plastics demand in Europe.
Plastic pollution can be solved but only if governments, businesses and individuals act together. Here's what you can do as a citizen:
- Choose, when possible, products made of biodegradable or recycled materials instead of plastics biodegradable dental floss rather than nylon; wooden hair combs or clothes pegs; glass bottles; cotton napkins; etc.
- Avoid disposable products like plastic straws, shopping bags, water bottles, crockery and cutlery.
- Store food without plastic containers: prefer glass containers, an inert material that, unlike plastic, does not release any contaminants.
- Avoid soaps and cosmetic products that contain microplastics: if they contain polyethylene, polypropylene or polyvinyl chloride – these are all plastics.
- Buy unpackaged products: buy fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, fish sold loose/by weight, and “on tap” detergents in order to minimize the packaging.
- Follow the waste and recycling procedures in your city or community.
- Engage with your shops and supermarkets and your municipality to urgently reduce unnecessary plastics.
- Be a responsible citizen and tourist