Plastic litter in the Mediterranean

Plastic litter in the Mediterranean


According to calculations from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an estimated 230,000 tons of plastic litter get into the Mediterranean Sea every year from the 33 countries bordering the Mediterranean alone, predominantly via rivers. The main cause is apparently incorrectly or carelessly disposed-of plastic waste. The authors are calling for an improved waste management system as an urgent countermeasure. Some 50,000 tons of discharges could be avoided every year if only the 100 cities with the largest amount of waste were to adopt a waste management system that functions in line with best-practice standards, says the report.

According to the IUCN, 230,000 tons means a daily discharge volume that is equivalent to the capacity of more than 500 freight containers. Of this volume, 94 percent is macroplastics and 6 percent microplastics from improperly disposed-of waste. The volumes are, however, an average estimate – anywhere between 150,000 and 600,000 tons would be conceivable. Furthermore, waste discharged into the water from the land was specifically taken into account, yet abandoned fishing nets, for example, were not. The authors of the study looked at the discharges from a total of 33 countries on the Mediterranean coast and also, for example, along the river Nile. They say that ten countries are responsible for 80 percent of the discharges. At the top of the list is Egypt with an estimated 74,000 tons per year, followed by Italy (34,000 tons) and Turkey (24,000 tons). Calculated as per capita per year, however, Montenegro tops the list with around 8 kg, followed by Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

Should no decisive measures be taken, the authors expect the quantity of waste in the Mediterranean to double by the year 2040. They are of the firm opinion that improved waste management would be the best possible countermeasure. If, starting with the refuse collection in the 100 cities with the highest discharges, the waste management systems were improved and raised to the best-practice standard, the discharge volume could be reduced by around a quarter. They also recommend the introduction of bans. According to Antonio Troya, Director of the IUCN Center for Cooperation in the Mediterranean Region, a worldwide ban on plastic bags would reduce the discharge of plastic by around 50,000 tons a year. Troya is calling on governments, private industry, research institutes and consumers to cooperate to reshape processes and supply chains, to invest in innovations and sustainable consumption patterns, and to establish improved waste management practices and thus reduce the discharge of plastics.

To the report: "The Mediterranean: Mare plasticum" by Julien Boucher and Guillaume Billard


  • IUCN
  • Euwid Recycling und Entsorgung 45/2020 (3.11.2020)
  • Dpa, Deutsche Welle (27.10.2020)
  • Photo: ©BKV GmbH / Uli Martin

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