Marine litter is a serious threat to the coastal and marine environment. Marine habitats are contaminated with man-made garbage and other waste, posing growing environmental, economic, health and aesthetic problems. Marine litter is composed of up to 80 % plastic, and originates from a diverse range of sources. Plastics tend to persist in the marine environment, possibly for hundreds of years.
Therefore it is in the interest of Ireland, with its long coastline, but also of the EU as a whole to tackle this problem. As a first step all Member States were obliged to submit an initial assessment of the state of their marine waters, their definition of ‘Good Environmental Status’ and the targets they have set to achieve this. However, Ireland along with eight other EU Member States did not submit their reports on time.
The Commission is now analysing the reports and intends to publish its assessment in 2013. This will help to raise awareness about this global problem, in line with commitments made in Rio this summer to reduce the incidence and impact of this type of pollution on marine ecosystems.
The Marine Litter paper, together with several on-going pilot projects and the information gathered from Member States on the state of their seas under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, will be an important input as the Commission considers a possible EU-wide reduction target as a contribution to the commitment made in Rio+20.
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive requires Member States to achieve “good environmental status” of their marine waters by 2020.
The Commission will now consult with Member States and other countries, Regional Sea Conventions, stakeholders and other interested parties on how to best take forward actions on marine litter. This consultation will culminate in an International Conference on Prevention and Management of Marine Litter in European Seas, co-organised by the German Federal Environment Ministry and the European Commission in Berlin in April 2013.