A quarter of the plastic waste produced by 22 countries and territories is released into nature every year of which roughly 600,000 tonnes ends up polluting the Mediterranean Sea, according to estimates in a new report by the international non-profit the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
It’s the equivalent of roughly 563 plastic bottles being dumped into the Mediterranean Sea every second.
This plastic waste kills wildlife, contaminates food chains, and increasingly is ingested by people from food and drinking water.
The alarming numbers about the region come as plastic consumption and waste are frequently in the news.
A study published this week found humans could be consuming between 39,000 and 52,000 tiny plastics — known as microplastics per year. Some studies hypothesise those microplastics could become toxic over time.
The WWF report said 80% of the marine plastic in the Mediterranean would return to land within a decade, polluting the coastlines.
Plastic pollution and discarded maritime and fishing materials accounted for 35% of seabird deaths and injuries, 27% of fish death and injuries, and 13% of marine mammal death and injuries among other species in the Mediterranean.
The president of WWF France, Isabelle Autissier, called the findings of the report “inadmissible but also incomprehensible”.
“The Mediterranean is one of the emblematic places of our heritage and yet it is inexorably submerged under a torrent of plastics,” she said in a press release sent in French.
“It is serious from the environmental point of view, but also economic as this pollution threatens many jobs and resources.”
Countries in the Mediterranean region produce 10% of all plastic goods making the region the fourth largest producer of plastic goods.
“This emits approximately 194 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, similar to six times the annual carbon emissions of London,” the report said.
Of the 24 million tonnes of plastic waste generated by the countries and territories in the region, only 72% is disposed of properly: in a controlled landfill, incinerator, or by recycling.
The rest is mismanaged in uncontrolled landfills or dumped illegally and is the main source of waste in the Mediterranean.
Every country in the Mediterranean mismanages a portion of its waste, but Egypt, Turkey, and Italy together account for two-thirds of the mismanaged waste.
France is the largest producer of plastic waste in the region, generating 4.5 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2016 or roughly 66.6 kg per person. Most of this waste was incinerated and only 22% of it was recycled, said the report.
The WWF estimates that the economic losses attributed to the plastic pollution in the region are at least €641 million per year including losses to the tourism, fishing, and maritime industry.
The global non-profit recommends that Mediterranean countries work together to limit plastic waste pollution by increasing recycling, limiting consumption, and setting targets for reuse and recycling.
The report said the EU single-use plastics directive, which sets measures to ban 10 single-use plastics found most commonly on EU beaches, could be a “common minimum standard” for reducing plastic consumption.
But, the report said, more single-use plastics and all microplastic should be banned in the future.
“It is therefore imperative that the Mediterranean states take ambitious measures to put an end to this scourge,” Autissier said.