Greenpeace: 96% of litter found in Mediterranean Sea is plastic

Press release - 8 June, 2017
Madrid, June 8 2017 - A Greenpeace Spain report launched on World Oceans Day which puts numbers to the enormous problem of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea coincides with the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, setting sail in the region to examine solutions to the problem. [1] The tour, starting along the Spanish coast, will continue into Italy, Croatia and Greece. A final leg will take the ship into the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea, a basin also impacted by plastic pollution.

The report “A Mediterranean full of plastic. Research on plastic pollution, impacts and solutions” highlights key facts and figures on plastic pollution in this sea, including that 96% of floating litter sampled in the Mediterranean is plastic, or that plastic has been found in depths up to 3000m in the Mediterranean and been identified in more than 90% of samples collected in the deep sea floor. The report also highlights the impacts plastic pollution has on marine flora and fauna, including the fact that plastic accounts for 97.3% of the debris ingested by loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean.

During the “Less Plastic, More Mediterranean” ship tour, the Rainbow Warrior will stop in several ports in each country, and the team onboard will be meeting with politicians, holding open-door events for the public and conducting scientific research in collaboration with scientific institutions in each country.

The aim of the tour is to raise awareness of the level of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, with an average accumulation of plastics comparable to that found in the tropical accumulation areas known as “plastic soups”. That is why the campaign has launched a petition to ask EU governments to phase out single-use plastic items, like plastic cups, cutlery and bags.

The global production of plastic waste has increased dramatically over recent years. It is estimated that plastic constitutes 60-80% of all marine litter and is increasing at an alarming rate. The highest proportion of plastic demand is used for packaging (eg 39.9% in Europe) much of it for single-use products. “An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic enter the ocean globally each year from 192 coastal countries across the world. 

Greenpeace Spain spokesperson, Mónica Ortega Menéndez, said:

“We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic litter problem. Governments are too quick to turn to recycling and should instead prioritise the waste management hierarchy through prevention at the source, followed by reuse and then recycling.”

Plastics can harm marine life via entanglement and strangulation. Also plastic is often mistaken for food and not digested which can lead to malnutrition. Approximately 17% of species that had ingested or become entangled in marine debris were listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Somewhere between 21% and 54% of all global microplastic particles in the world are in the Mediterranean basin. Microplastics can be ingested by marine life, including smaller species like plankton, shellfish and fish, and may cause problems both because of the chemical contaminants they carry. They may even end up being passed along the food chain.

The Mediterranean Sea is home to rich biodiversity and supports about 7.5% of known marine species. But it is also under great pressure from human activity; with a densely populated coast, 25% of international annual tourist trade and 30% of global shipping traffic. This, along with its topography, has led to the accumulation of plastic waste in The Mediterranean. Plastic has been found on beaches, on the sea floor, ingested by marine organisms and entangled with cold-water corals. 

Greenpeace is urging governments and businesses in the region to take measures to keep plastic out of the ocean. Greenpeace is calling on governments to ban key sources of marine plastics as a crucial first step, including phasing out single-use plastic items.

Greenpeace is a member of the Break Free From Plastic movement, which is bringing together organisations from all over the world with an aim towards a future free of plastic pollution. During the tour NGOs working on plastic pollution will come together to discuss the issue and find way solutions.



Notes for editors 

[1] Read the report here 

Photos and video will appear here 



Mónica Ortega, Comms Lead Plastic Campaign, Greenpeace Spain

+ 34 91 444 14 38 / +34 626 99 82 48