I imagine that if a modern Ulysses came across mermaids today, they would sing their sorrow for the way men are treating their home, the sea, and weep; but would mermaids’ tears then melt back into the sea or crystallise in poisoning microscopic gems? Researchers seem to have answered this question: plastic does not bio-degrade, it only breaks down physically, and so persists in the environment for possibly hundreds of years; waste fragment over time into small pellets, called mermaids’ tears.
I already raised the point on this blog (see “Plastic Mediterranean“), as the volume of solid waste material –much of it made of plastic– flowing into the sea, and in particular the Mediterranean, is important.
I am working with my colleague Janez Potočnik, who is responsible for Environment; we have just been to Athens together, on Friday, to meet public authorities and representatives from environmental organisations and the industry and discuss concrete opportunities to address the issue.
We think to limit –or even ban – the use of plastic bags in retailing. Several EU countries have already put in place different mechanisms to try to achieve this: in Italy plastic bags were banned since the beginning of the year; Ireland was the first country to take action imposing a duty of around 0,22€ on plastic bags since 2002; in Belgium, there is a voluntary agreement of the retailing sector not to issue or at least to charge plastic bags. There is consensus among EU member states on the need to take up the challenge and the Commission is now examining the problem and its possible solutions.
The EU can also offer opportunities to remedy to the present situation: the European Fisheries Fund, for instance, offers now the possibility of developing projects that may contribute to the preservation of the marine environment, such as “fishing for litter” initiatives. Such projects are already ongoing in some countries: in France, among other initiatives, a pilot project will be launched at the end of May, whereby marine litter will be collected by fishermen and sent for treatment.
The fisheries fund can also co-finance port reception facilities in cooperation with the local authorities and municipalities, to collect the waste of fishing and recreational boats.
But, at the same time, we need to address the source of the problem: the industry, the citizens, sailors and fishermen, when enjoying the sea either for professional or recreational activities, should change their current behaviour. We all should act as guardians of the sea.