Urgent solutions for marine litter problems are needed

We got some fresh information on February 2022 about the marine litter problems. WWF had ordered a report called Impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean on marine species, biodiversity and ecosystems , which is so far the most comprehensive report of the effects of marine litter to the species and ecosystems of the oceans. Immediately after it, OECD published its own outlook. Neither of these no longer give space for wondering. It is time to act now.

WWF is telling, how the marine litter problems are already seen underwater, in most species of the oceans and in many significant ecosystems of the world. Until 2050 the amount of microplastics in the ocean will at least double – although the discharge of plastics into water systems would end now. According to the current expectations the production of plastic will more than double until 2040.

From the microplastic problems to the macro plastics

WWF emphasizes that the dangerous ecological thresholds for microplastics have already exceeded on the Mediterranean, in the sea of Eastern China, Yellow sea and in the arctic sea ice. The effects of microplastics are not precisely known yet, but it is clear that they have harmful effects on species and ecosystems.

OECD stresses in its analysis macro plastics, which means the bigger marine litter. According to it of plastic, which ends up to nature, even 88 % are macro plastics and the rest 12 % of them microplastics. Over time, the macro plastics then degrade to microplastics, which stand out worse. The biggest part of marine litter, 60 – 95 %, are however single-use plastics.

But there is something in the report of OECD, which causes confusion: it says that pandemic reduced the production and use of plastic 2020 – though only 2,2 %. OECD justifies the reduction so that building, retail trade and manufacture of motor vehicles decreased 2020 and so did the use of plastic. However, it has been reported earlier that the effect was the opposite: pandemic raised the markets of plastic products 5 %.

Also in USA was estimated that the consumption of single-use plastic has increased even 250-300 percentages. The plastic industry sought to create an image that the use of single-use plastic is hygienic and help to fight against Covid-19. Also agreements and bans related to plastic were postponed during pandemic. The scientific magazine, PNAS, was reporting already earlier, how pandemic has increased the consumption of single-use plastic and made the marine litter problem worse. As a summary the consumption of single-use plastic has increased but elsewhere the use of plastic may have decreased. However, this is not comforting, because the single-use plastic specifically ends up to the rivers and lakes. OECD mentions that the data sources during pandemic year are not completely reliable.

Solutions to the problem

Solutions to the marine litter problem are very straightforward: The plastic production should be decreased and invest in recycling. WWF is also calling for an international plastic agreement, which would emphasize plastic bans and national action plans for decreasing the marine litter problem. The negotiations of UNEP just ended in Nairobi 2.3 and the result was clear: 173 countries have agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastics.

OECD also highlights the recycled plastics market, which have been so far very weak: creating of them should be invested. On the other hand, virgin plastic should be priced correctly, so take into accounts its negative environmental impacts.

It is also crucial to pay attention to the circular economy of plastic and innovations related to it, make national plastic bans and increase international cooperation with circular economy. This was also hopefully on the list in Nairobi.

What is Clewat doing?

None of them, WWF tai OECD don´t talk about the plastics, which already exist in the water systems. WWF only mentions that it is most important to concentrate on it that plastic won´t end up to the rivers and lakes. But we think that it is also crucial to admit that the damage has already occurred. We can´t leave the plastics, which are already in the water systems, there to decompose and cause harm to ecosystems and species.

So the work of Clewat is to collect the plastics, which already exist in the water systems. We concentrate to the rivers and shores, preventing this way plastics to end up to the oceans. But we want to do more – we want to participate also to the education and research work. The purpose of our work is to take care of water systems holistically and use our expertise for it.

Picture and article: Katja Vaulio

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