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Plastics and Environmental Protection in Europe

Background

Environmental protection is an essential aspect of social life in modern Europe. Since manufacturers started producing excess goods, people began to take things less responsibly and accumulate vast amounts of garbage. However, not all trash can decompose over time – stuff made from plastic, such as household appliances and packaging of edible products, will survive more than one generation of Europeans.

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Despite the collaborative efforts made by manufacturers, government, and non-governmental organizations to protect the environment, plastic continues to accumulate in landfills throughout Europe. Moreover, a considerable part of plastic invades the sea, where it dissolves in saltwater, turning into micro-plastic, deadly for marine fish and birds.1 Animals ingest micro-plastic from the environment, and since humans are at the top of the food chain, they consume seafood abundant in micro-plastic, which is extremely dangerous for health.

Besides, insoluble plastic in the form of various bags and packs continues to kill wildlife by getting into their digestive system and blocking the work of the animal’s bodies, whether it be birds, fish, turtles, or marine mammals. In particular, cases of plastic ingestion in birds were recorded in the Bay of Biscay.2 Today, numerous discussions consider the nature of plastic environmental pollution in the Mediterranean and Adriatic regions.3 Scientists also study the nature of plastic sediments in Southern Europe and Western Africa.4 In general, marine pollution is most dangerous for both animals and humans. Therefore, urgent measures need to be taken to solve this problem.

Past International Actions

Over the past few decades, international partners have taken several decisions to protect the environment from plastic pollution. In 1982, the UN Convention established 12 marine mile territorial sea zones and a 200 marine mile exclusive economic zones, to privatize and protect the oceans.5 However, according to these changes, the open sea and areas beyond the national jurisdiction remain drawn. Later, in 2010, UN member states promised to conserve 10% of the marine environment and protect specific marine areas from over-exploitation; nonetheless, by now, only 2.3% are protected.6

In 2017, the UN adopted resolution 72/249, which regulates conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.7 The final conference on the resolution will be held in the first half of 2020, and the final agreement will be signed at this gathering.

Moreover, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive defines micro-plastic as trash and obliges governments to reduce this source of sediment. At the same time, the EU annually publishes plastic strategies aimed at changing the methods of production, use, and processing of plastic products to increase the processing level to 30%.8 Besides, in 2017, the UN launched a campaign to eliminate micro-plastic from disposable cosmetics plastics by 2022, with the hashtag #CleanSeas.9 Furthermore, in 2017, 13 non-binding resolutions on environmental protection were adopted, aimed to free the marine environment from micro-plastic.10

Scientists say that many corporate industries make efforts to resist government regulation and try to avoid any accountability and criticism, asserting their right for corporate self-regulation.11 Nonetheless, companies such as Toyota, Walmart, and Procter & Gamble had to declare their commitment to waste reduction.

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There is a list of international pollution control laws, such as water quality, air quality, waste management, and environmental cleanup laws. For example, water quality laws include the London Convention that limits ocean dumping from vessels, aircraft and platforms, and MARPOL 73/78 that regulates ship pollution. Moreover, international rules on waste management include eleven different conventions and agreements, mainly developed in the 1990s-2000s.

In 2015, the US Congress passed the Microbeads-Free Water Act, banning the production of cosmetics containing microbeads, which are the source of micro-plastic formation; The United Kingdom passed a similar law in 2016.12 The Bali government banned the use of plastic bags in 2018, and Ghana announced a decision to clear coastal lines from marine plastic by 2025.13 Besides, bans on the use of plastic bags have already been introduced in France, Italy, Rwanda, and Kenya. The last two countries use fines, public condemnation, and even imprisonment for violating the law.

Current Policy

Today, governments of European countries and the European Union government improve their policies to protect the environment from plastic pollution. Scientists believe that politicians have come closer to recognizing the principle of extended producer responsibility as the most effective tool for solving the problem of plastic pollution.14 Therefore, it is assumed that countries will need to take into account the mistakes and victories associated with the implementation of the Montreal and Kyoto protocols to develop a comprehensive global plastic treaty in the future.15 Scientists emphasize that “the Montreal Protocol can serve as a model for protecting the oceans by reducing the production of plastics in industries and regulating polymers and chemical additives at the global level”.16

Notably, the Montreal Protocol regulates international relations to prevent the destruction of the ozone layer. At the same time, the Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stop global warming. Besides, the Paris Agreement of 2016, signed under the Kyoto Protocol, can become a firm basis for a global plastic treaty.

Bibliography

Dauvergne, Peter. “Why Is the Global Governance of Plastic Failing the Oceans?” Global environmental change 51 (2018): 22–31.

Franco, Javier, Jerome Fort, Isabel García-Barón, Pauline Loubat, Maite Louzao, Oihane del Puerto, and Izaskun Zorita. “Incidence of Plastic Ingestion in Seabirds from the Bay of Biscay (Southwestern Europe).” Marine pollution bulletin 146 (2019): 387–392.

Leal Filho, Walter, Ulla Saari, Mariia Fedoruk, Arvo Iital, Harri Moora, Marija Klöga, and Viktoria Voronova. “An Overview of the Problems Posed by Plastic Products and the Role of Extended Producer Responsibility in Europe.” Journal of cleaner production 214 (2019): 550–558.

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Lourenço, Pedro M., Catarina Serra-Gonçalves, Joana Lia Ferreira, Teresa Catry, and José P. Granadeiro. “Plastic and other Microfibers in Sediments, Macroinvertebrates, and Shorebirds from Three Intertidal Wetlands of Southern Europe and West Africa.” Environmental pollution 231 (2017): 123–133.

Mistri, Michele, Vanessa Infantini, Marco Scoponi, Tommaso Granata, Letizia Moruzzi, Francesca Massara, Miriam De Donati, and Cristina Munari. “Small Plastic Debris in Sediments from the Central Adriatic Sea: Types, Occurrence and Distribution.” Marine pollution bulletin 124, no. 1 (2017): 435–440.

Munari, Cristina, Marco Scoponi, and Michele Mistri. “Plastic Debris in the Mediterranean Sea: Types, Occurrence, and Distribution along Adriatic Shorelines.” Waste management 67 (2017): 385–391.

Raubenheimer, Karen, and Alistair McIlgorm. “Is the Montreal Protocol a Model that Can Help Solve the Global Marine Plastic Debris Problem?” Marine Policy 81 (2017): 322–329.

Tessnow-von Wysocki, Ina. “International Cooperation for the Protection of Global Public Goods: Towards a Global Plastics Treaty.” (2019).

Tiller, Rachel, and Elizabeth Nyman. “Ocean Plastics and the BBNJ Treaty – Is Plastic Frightening Enough to Insert Itself into the BBNJ Treaty, or Do We Need to Wait for a Treaty of Its Own?” Journal of environmental studies and sciences 8, no. 4 (2018): 411–415.

Footnotes

  1. Mistri, Michele, Vanessa Infantini, Marco Scoponi, Tommaso Granata, Letizia Moruzzi, Francesca Massara, Miriam De Donati, and Cristina Munari, “Small Plastic Debris in Sediments from the Central Adriatic Sea: Types, Occurrence, and Distribution,” Marine pollution bulletin 124, no. 1 (2017): 435.
  2. Franco, Javier, Jerome Fort, Isabel García-Barón, Pauline Loubat, Maite Louzao, Oihane del Puerto, and Izaskun Zorita, “Incidence of Plastic Ingestion in Seabirds from the Bay of Biscay (Southwestern Europe),” Marine pollution bulletin 146 (2019): 387.
  3. Munari, Cristina, Marco Scoponi, and Michele Mistri, “Plastic Debris in the Mediterranean Sea: Types, Occurrence, and Distribution along Adriatic Shorelines,” Waste management 67 (2017): 385.
  4. Lourenço, Pedro M., Catarina Serra-Gonçalves, Joana Lia Ferreira, Teresa Catry, and José P. Granadeiro, “Plastic and other Microfibers in Sediments, Macroinvertebrates, and Shorebirds from Three Intertidal Wetlands of Southern Europe and West Africa,” Environmental pollution 231 (2017): 123.
  5. Tiller, Rachel, and Elizabeth Nyman, “Ocean Plastics and the BBNJ Treaty – Is Plastic Frightening Enough to Insert Itself into the BBNJ Treaty, or Do We Need to Wait for a Treaty of Its Own?” Journal of environmental studies and sciences 8, no. 4 (2018): 411–415.
  6. Tiller, and Nyman, “Ocean Plastics and the BBNJ Treaty,” 411.
  7. Tiller and Nyman, 412.
  8. Tiller and Nyman, 412.
  9. Tiller and Nyman, 413.
  10. Tiller and Nyman, 413.
  11. Dauvergne, Peter, “Why Is the Global Governance of Plastic Failing the Oceans?” Global environmental change 51 (2018): 22.
  12. Tiller and Nyman, 414.
  13. Tiller and Nyman, 414.
  14. Leal Filho, Walter, Ulla Saari, Mariia Fedoruk, Arvo Iital, Harri Moora, Marija Klöga, and Viktoria Voronova, “An Overview of the Problems Posed by Plastic Products and the Role of Extended Producer Responsibility in Europe,” Journal of cleaner production 214 (2019): 550.
  15. Tessnow-von Wysocki, Ina, “International Cooperation for the Protection of Global Public Goods: Towards a Global Plastics Treaty,” (2019): 2.
  16. Raubenheimer, Karen, and Alistair McIlgorm, “Is the Montreal Protocol a Model that Can Help Solve the Global Marine Plastic Debris Problem?” Marine policy 81 (2017): 322.

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