26072017Headline:

Mediterranean in grave danger from plastic pollution, Greenpeace reports

More than 1,455 tonnes of plastic are currently believed to be floating on the Mediterranean Sea, while 94 pct of plastic waste is currently coating the seabed, according to the latest estimates. According to the head of Greenpeace’s campaign for the protection of the marine environment Alkis Kafetzis, “the numbers are disappointing.”

“The problem is huge,” Kafetzis said, talking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA). “Our dependence on disposable plastic has converted the seas into a huge rubbish dump. It is so serious that certain regions of the country have decided to place floating barriers on busy beaches that will contain floating refuse so that it does cause a problem to bathers.”

Greece produces between 180,000-300,000 tonnes of plastic packaging a year, while the total annual demand for plastic is estimated to be around 500,000 tonnes. Only a very small percentage of this amount is recycled, while the Institute for Retail Consumer Goods Research (IELKA) estimates that Greeks use 363 plastic bags per person each year.

“Unless we drastically reduce the single-use plastic in our lives, the problem is going to get bigger and no solution will be enough,” Kafetzis stressed.

Greenpeace intends to launch a campaign to sensitise the public to the problems, he said, with Greenpeace ship “Rainbow Warrior” arriving to sail Greek seas this summer, allowing free visits on board and an open deck to anyone that wants to learn about the issue.

Its ports of call will include the island of Zakynthos on July 20-21, Iraklion on July 24-25 and Syros on July 30-31. These stops are part of a Mediterranean tour that began in June from Spain, passing through Italy and Croatia on the way to Greece and continuing to Bulgaria.

In addition to highlighting the extent of the problem, with waste in the Mediterranean at high levels, it is also a research mission, Kafetzis said: “With a special net we shall take samples from selected points that will be analysed to see the quantity and density of micro-plastics. Beyond the sampling for plastics we will also have special cameras that will video the sea bed at specific points around the islands that we will pass with the ship, to witness the extent of the problem.”

He urged people to first reduce the use of plastics, to reuse, to recycle and finally to “bin” and not throw plastic away on coasts and beaches. “The greatest responsibility lies with companies and policies but consumers have their own share of responsibility and can intervene to the extent they are able,” he added.

What the research so far has shown:

– Some 80 pct of plastic found in oceans comes from the land. The rest is from ships, oil rigs and freighters. Scientists estimate that, due to extensive use of disposable, one-use plastic and inadequate waste management systems, some 4.8-12.7 million tonnes of rubbish end up in the oceans. For the 23 EU countries with a shoreline, the figure is 50-120,000 tonnes.

– Europe is the second-largest producer of plastic worldwide, generating 50 million tonnes a year, of which nearly 40 pct is for plastic packaging.

– Large plastic packaging, such as bags, has a devastating impact on sea turtles, monks and dolphins that get caught in them or swallow them. An even greater number of organisms can swallow microscopic pieces of plastic – or micro plastics (less than 5mm) – which pose a grave danger to marine ecosystems.

– A 2016 study by the University of Patras of waste density in the Saronic Gulf showed that rubbish tends to accumulate at the greatest depths and reach a density of up to 3,428 pieces per square kilometre, while 95 pct of this waste is plastic.

– A 2017 study by the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, the Oceanography Institute, an environmental science department at a U.S. university and the University of Patras, based on the dominant sea currents, predicted that the highest concentrations of floating rubbish can be found in the northern Aegean, Saronic Gulf, Evia and Crete. The highest concentrations of plastic on the coast are expected in the Saronic Gulf, eastern Peloponnese, Pagasitikos Bay, Cyclades islands and northern Crete.

The area forecast to have the least problems is the eastern Aegean. For the time the problem is most acute near major urban centres but is not restricted there.