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”LIFE BLUE LAKES” project combats microplastic in lakes

In 2019, the Global Nature Fund (GNF), together with the Lake Constance Foundation and several Italian partners, launched the project "BLUE LAKES" to prevent the discharge of microplastic into freshwater ecosystems. Funded by the European Union's LIFE program, the project partners are working at several levels to reduce microplastic discharges into German and Italian lakes. As a central instrument, a “lakes paper” was developed in cooperation with the affected districts with a voluntary commitment to protect the waters from the input of microplastics. This lake charter is also to serve as a template for water protection worldwide.
 

The "BLUE LAKES" project is scheduled to run for four years and is funded by the European Commission as part of the LIFE programme, a financial instrument of the European Union for the implementation, updating and further development of climate policy and environmental legislation. The project is co-funded by Plastics Europe, the European association of plastics producers, which is involved in the ongoing scientific evaluation of research results from the project and participates in cross-national collaboration to develop protocols, standard and analytical methods. The project will run until September 2023 and is coordinated by the Italian conservation organisation, Legambiente. Other project partners, besides the GNF, the Lake Constance Foundation and the Chiemsee nature guides on the German side, are the Italian environmental and water protection authorities ARPA Umbria, Autorità die Bacino distrettuale dell' Appenino Centrale, the Italian Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development ENEA, and the Polytechnic University of Marche with headquarters in Ancona.

 

To reduce the discharge of microplastics into Italian and German lakes, the project partners are primarily conducting training, information and awareness-raising activities aimed at local authorities, commerce, industry, lake communities and residents. With the project, in addition to the scientific work, the participating organisations also want to draw attention to the "silent danger" posed by microplastics. The measures are being implemented as examples in Italy on Lakes Garda, Bracciano and Trasimeno, and in Germany on Lake Constance and Lake Chiemsee. The aim is to develop standardised procedures for the best possible measures so that these can subsequently be used for other lakes and bodies of water in Europe. The riparian communities on the project lakes are involved in a participatory process that has resulted in a "lakes paper" with information on monitoring procedures and technical solutions to protect lakes from plastic waste and microplastics. The paper was published in August 2022. According to the project partners, the lakes paper shows potential for reducing "plastic consumption" and the discharge of microplastic in communities. Other measures in the project include effluent limits, monitoring programmes, optimised wastewater treatment processes, regulations to reduce negative impacts from industrial wastewater and domestic sewage, and awareness-raising measures for the population, schools and the tourism sector. The lakes paper includes a voluntary commitment under which municipalities can determine for themselves what measures they will take and by when.

 

According to those involved in the project, micropolymers from cosmetics and cleaning products, agriculture, fibre fragments from synthetic textiles and road and tyre abrasion, which are also counted as microplastics in the project, are considered to be the main potential sources of microplastics entering the lakes. Therefore, as part of the "BLUE LAKES" project, companies from the plastics, tyre, outdoor and cosmetics sectors have also been integrated in the project in a special campaign to develop solutions to reduce and avoid microplastic pollution, and have also been involved in the development of the lakes paper. In addition, the Italian project partners have launched a participatory process to develop a white paper on lakes for relevant national authorities such as ministries of environment, agriculture, health, development, etc. Bilateral meetings are said to be planned for dialogue with stakeholders from politics, science and industry who are interested in contributing their proposals to the document.

 

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