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"Microplastics have also arrived in our lakes"

Udo Gattenlöhner is an agricultural scientist and managing director of the Global Nature Fund (GNF), a non-profit foundation for the environment and nature founded in 1998 with its head office in Radolfzell on Lake Constance. The foundation coordinates among other things the international network Living Lakes, which has 135 member lakes, and operates worldwide for the protection of lakes and waterways. The Global Nature Fund, together with the Lake Constance Foundation and several Italian partners, founded the project "BLUE LAKES", which is actively supported among others by the plastics producers at Plastics Europe. The project is focused on the avoidance and reduction of the discharge of microplastics into lakes (see the report "Project "LIFE BLUE LAKES" fights microplastic in lakes").
 

Mr. Gattenlöhner, the "Blue Lakes" project was launched in 2019. What, in your view is special about the project? What are the main results so far?

 

As far as the general public is concerned, pollution by microplastics has so far been more in the context of the oceans. However, the problem also exists in our lakes. "Blue Lakes" helps, alongside other scientifically oriented projects (such as "Limnoplast"), to reach the central target groups (communes, relevant branches of industry and consumers) in a dialogue-oriented approach, and to sensitise them to the problem.

 

How well does the cross-border cooperation function, and could it set an example for other such projects? Are there any country-specific differences in the approach?

 

The Global Nature Fund (GNF) works in all its projects in cross-border partnerships. The experiences of the Italian (scientific) partner institutions are of high relevance for all EU countries and are largely transferrable. Cross-national projects have a positive effect on the governance-related framework conditions at EU level and thus essentially on all countries.

 

Is the “lakes paper” with recommendations for action for communes to reduce microplastics already being used in practice?

 

The paper consists of a voluntary self-commitment and a matrix with a catalogue of specific measures that is seen as an efficient aid for communes in reducing and avoiding plastic litter and microplastic. The 5-R principle for avoiding waste (Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair Recycle) is already being applied by a large number of communes. The self-commitment should be signed by 20 communities by the time the project comes to an end.
 

Based on your experience, what needs to happen primarily with the project in order to avoid further discharges of plastic litter into inland waterways?
 

Three aspects are key and primarily necessary to counter the problem of plastic waste in the pollution of waterways:

  • The EU Commission must prevent, via its governance policy, all avoidable microplastic pollution by implementing e.g. bans on the use of plastic particles in cosmetic products, artificial turf pitches and agriculture.
  • The largest quantities of microplastic come from tyre and asphalt abrasion. These branches of industry must be made liable for financing technical equipment for reducing microplastic in the effluent in wastewater treatment plants.
  • The ban on "single-use plastic products" must be extended and implemented quickly and consistently in order to avoid plastic litter getting into the countryside.

 

(February 2022)

 

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