EU declares war on plastic litter in Mediterranean
Athens (AFP) April 8, 2011
EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik on Friday declared war on marine litter fouling the Mediterranean, calling for continental mobilisation including a possible ban on plastic bags.
"Marine litter is a big, big problem. I am determined to address it," he told an Athens conference attended by environmentalists and representatives of the plastic industry. "I invite you to join us and say no to the 'plastic monster'."
"In the Mediterranean Sea, it has been estimated that there are around 250 billion floating plastic particles and 500 tonnes of plastic," he added. "It's an increasingly serious threat to biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, our economy."
Potocnik, a Slovenian, noted that the "serious impact" of single use plastic bags on the environment was discussed by EU ministers in March, with an agreement to work together on developing effective responses.
Greek participants at the conference underscored the problem posed by the many open-air landfills on Greek islands.
"We must consider and analyse the impact of all options, including a Europe-wide ban of plastics bags," said Potocnik, who was flanked by EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki of Greece.
He also stressed the need for better waste management to protect the marine environment, pointing out that 80 percent of marine litter originates from land, while the rest is caused by merchant or fishing vessels.
And Potocnik called for EU funding of waste collection schemes by fishermen modelled on an existing pilot project on the French Riviera.
He also praised Greece for its efforts to shut down hundreds of illegal landfills while noting that the country was still lagging in the area of waste management.
"They are doing a serious job and if they continue in that way, then I do believe that there will be no need to go to the court for a second time," he noted.
He said Athens in December put forward an "ambitious action plan" to close all illegal landfills by the end of June, and to rehabilitate all the closed ones by the middle of next year.
"They are reporting to us on a monthly basis," Potocnik said. "Waste management is the main problem."
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