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Most plastic pollution in Mediterranean 'comes from France'

media Compressed plastic cups destined to be recycled at the headquarters of recycling startup company Canibal in Gennevilliers, France. AFP

The Mediterranean is sick with plastic waste – and France is largely to blame. That’s the assessment of the World Wildlife Fund, whose report released Friday is urging decision-makers to get on board with policies to address the problem.

Each year 570,000 tonnes of plastic enters the Mediterranean, estimates the WFF, adding it’s the equivalent of dumping 33,800 plastic bottles into the sea every minute.

Twenty-four million tonnes of plastic waste is generated by Mediterranean countries every year, making the region is the world’s 4th largest producer of plastics – and only 22 percent of that is recycled. Most is either incinerated or buried.

“Almost one third of Mediterranean’s plastic waste is mismanaged,” the report says. “This plastic, which either remains uncollected or ends up in illegal landfills and open dumps, is most likely to make its way into rivers, and eventually the sea.”

Instead of winding down on plastic production and turning to greener alternatives, the 22 countries that make up the Mediterranean region are increasing their production of plastics. Already, 76 kilograms of plastic goods are being made for each person – far higher than the global average.

'All actors have a role to play'

The WWF is calling on Mediterranean governments, industry and ordinary people to join forces to end plastic waste leakage into the Mediterranean by 2030.

The NGO wants to see a ban on single-use plastics, more investment in effective waste-management systems, support for innovative plastic alternatives and the adoption of a legally binding treaty committing to all of these things.

Members of an environmental protection association take part in a campagne called "Zero plastic in the Mediterranean" to raise awareness of contamination of the sea, near the island of Frioul in Marseille on 12 July, 2018. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

Although France is the largest Mediterranean economy, its rate of recycling of plastic waste is lower than that of Spain, Slovenia, Italy and Israel – something the WWF puts down to poor waste management.

In fact, all French departments, or districts, on the Mediterranean coast have household waste collection rates that are lower than the national average, which in 2013 was 36.5 percent.

Collection rates are particularly low in South Corsica (15 percent) and Var (22 percent), while the landfill rate is notably high in areas such as Marseille (40 percent) and Corsica (75 percent). Oversaturated dumps in these areas have also led to the creation of many open dumpsites.

Not only does plastic production across the Mediterranean emit some 194 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year, costs associated with plastic pollution are estimated at 641 million euros.

The release of the report "Stop the Flood of Plastic" comes on the eve of World Oceans Day, on Saturday 8 June.


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