The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most heavily-affected environments in the world in terms of plastic pollution, with about 230,000 tons dumped there every year, according to a new report. The researchers warned that the figure could double by 2040 unless ambitious steps are taken as soon as possible.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published the report “The Mediterranean: Mare plasticum” which reviews the role of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean. It considered 33 countries, either coastal or part of a hydrological basin flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.
“The region represents a perfect model to advance our understanding of plastic. It’s a semi-enclosed sea, making the definition of plastic mass balance and the comparison between modeling approaches and field sampling approaches easier,” said Mina Epps, director of the IUCN Global Marine program, in a statement.
The total plastic accumulated in the Mediterranean is estimated at around 1,178,000 tons, the researchers found. Most of it seems to be deposited on the seafloor either in the form of microplastics in the sediments or as macroplastics and mesoplastics scattered on the seafloor.
The top three countries by the amount of plastic released into the sea are Egypt, Italy, and Turkey. But on a per capita basis, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia have the highest levels of plastic waste leakage. Plastic hotspots tend to form near the mouth of major rivers and close to large cities.
“The report refines the estimates of the quantity of plastic currently floating into the Mediterranean, based on a compilation of data from field studies and using the footprint methodology to estimate the yearly input of plastic into the Mediterranean Sea,” said Epps in a statement.
Under a business as usual scenario, the current 229,000 tons of plastic leaking every year into the Mediterranean Sea would grow to 500,000 by 2040, the researchers estimate. That’s why they argued for ambitious interventions beyond current commitments to reduce the flow of plastic into the sea.
There are concrete ways to achieve such a reduction, according to the report. Over 50,000 tons could be slashed each year if waste management was improved in the top 100 contributing cities alone. They also recommended a ban on plastic bags in the Mediterranean basin region.
"Governments, private sector, research institutions, and other industries and consumers need to work collaboratively to redesign processes and supply chains, invest in innovation and adopt sustainable consumption patterns and improved waste management practices to close the plastic tap," said Antonio Troya, head of the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.