Greenpeace

question & answer


How does all this plastic poison our sea? Why is recycling is not enough?
Are you wondering about questions like these? Have a look at this section and find the answer.

  • WHY ARE YOU FOCUSING ON SINGLE-USE PLASTIC?

    Single-use plastics are materials used once and then thrown away or plastic materials that fulfill a very short-term purpose. Despite being used for a very short time (eg a stirrer or coffee spoon might only be used for a few seconds) they remain in the environment for decades, even hundreds or thousand of years. Plastic bags and food wrapping, plastic bottles/caps and cutlery are the most common single-use plastics. Given the widespread and massive use of single-use plastics and that current waste management systems (locally and globally) are often not working effectively, scientists estimate that between 4,8 and 12 million tonnes of this plastic waste leaks into the oceans, accounting for a large part of the plastic pollution ìnvasion´ we see on our beaches.

  • HOW DOES ALL THIS PLASTIC END IN THE OCEANS?

    The majority of global marine pollution (about 80%) comes from land-based activities. The remaining 20% comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships.
    Plastics make up the majority of marine debris for two main reasons. First, plastic’s low cost, light weight and malleability mean that it’s being used in a huge diversity of products. Second, plastic goods do not biodegrade, although some break down into smaller pieces (microplastics). Based on extensive data from beach clean-ups, most of the plastic entering the oceans consists of plastic packaging, including plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups.

  • HOW DOES PLASTIC POLLUTION AFFECT MARINE ANIMALS?

    Large plastic packaging such as bags can have a devastating affect on turtles, otters and dolphins through things like entanglement, choking, strangulation and malnutrition.
    Tiny bits of plastic, called “microplastics”, have the potential to be ingested by a greater number of organisms than macroplastics. Microplastics in the marine environment are a serious concern because they can cause harm to marine life through their physical presence as objects in the gut or body tissues. They can also act as an additional source of some toxic chemicals, whether those are present as additives in the original plastic material or have been adsorbed and concentrated from the surrounding seawater before being ingested.

  • IS PLASTIC POLLUTION IN OUR SEAS A RISK TO HUMAN HEALTH?

    While we know that microplastics can attract and leach out toxic chemicals – and we know that they can end up in the food chain – we simply need more research on the potentially negative impacts on human health.
    Despite concluding that microplastics in seafood do not currently represent a human health risk, a report published by The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2016 highlighted major knowledge gaps in understanding of the fate and toxicity of microplastics, as well as noting the potential for microplastics to act as surfaces for the transport and dispersal of pathogens relevant to human diseases.

  • WHICH ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF PLASTIC POLLUTION?

    Some of the most common types of plastics found on beaches and in coastal areas are:

    • Plastic bottles (and their caps)
    • Food wrappers and packaging
    • Straws and stirrers
    • Supermarket and other plastic bags
    • Plastic cutlery and plastic food containers
    • Microplastics (plastic particles 5mm or less in size)
    • Fishing line and other fishing objects
  • HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE PLASTIC TO DECOMPOSE?

    That depends on several factors including the type of plastic and the environmental conditions. Many plastics do not biodegrade to any significant degree, regardless of environmental conditions, while some do so very slowly if exposed to certain conditions of air, water and light. Plastics in the water column or in the seabed will take even longer to degrade due to less exposure to light and oxygen. In cold, deep ocean environments, it can take many hundreds of years for plastic to decompose.

  • IS IT POSSIBLE TO CLEAN UP THE PLASTIC POLLUTION IN THE OCEANS?

    Cleaning waste from the oceans is not easy. As soon as plastic enters the ocean, a combination of UV rays from the sun and wave action break big plastic objects like bags and food packaging into smaller and smaller fragments. These fragments are found at all levels of the ocean, from the surface down to the ocean floor, from the equator to Arctic ice.
    Even a focus in the hotspots of the “Plastic Vortex” is complicated for several reasons:

    • The concentration zones are very extensive and move and change throughout the year
    • Most of garbage consists of small plastic fragments or even microplastics
    • Most of plastic is not on the surface but is floating in the water column or remains in the bottom
    • Some of these areas are home to marine life, so "filtering" this water could be risky for them.
  • ISN’T IT MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE I RECYCLE MY PLASTIC?

    Globally only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. In the case of the EU, no more than 30% of post-consumer plastic waste which entered the waste stream was recycled in 2014. The rest was either landfilled or incinerated. And these figures don’t account for all the plastic that is littered and abandoned in the environment which can finally leak into the ocean. The current waste management system is clearly insufficient.
    Of course we all need to try to do the right thing when it comes to disposing of plastic and other materials. But with a dumper truck full of plastic pouring into our oceans every minute of every day, we know this problem is huge, and we need to tackle it at its source. It is not only up to end consumers, but also to companies and politicians to cut the flow of plastic waste at source. This problem isn’t going to go away unless companies rapidly phase out throwaway plastic while developing new delivery systems based on refill and reuse, and politicians set the legal basis to promote these avenues.

  • WHICH ARE THE BEST ALTERNATIVES TO SINGLE -USE PLASTIC PACKAGING?

    Reusable and refillable materials (such as a reusable shopper instead of plastic bags) are generally the most effective and sustainable solution.

  • WHAT IS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY & WHY IS EU IMPORTANT FOR PLASTIC POLLUTION?

    Circular Economy is a model for a sustainable economy, based on a responsible use and consumption of goods. According to the EU: “In a circular economy the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible; waste and resource use are minimised, and resources are kept within the economy when a product has reached the end of its life, to be used again and again to create further value”.
    Europe plays a key role within the global plastic industry. It is the second largest producer of plastic globally (around 50 million tonnes are produced every year). In the EU, packaging is the most common use of plastic, making up almost 40% of plastics demand. However, a lot of the plastic produced is used to make single-use products, which quickly lose their value through incineration, landfilling, or when they become marine litter.

  • WHICH IS THE CURRENT SITUATION IN EUROPEAN LAWS?

    In 2015, The EU Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package with legislative proposals on waste, with long-term targets to reduce landfilling and increase recycling and reuse. During 2017 there are two relevant discussions on the Circular Economy Package in the EU: the revision of 4 Circular Economy relevant Laws - including the the Waste Framework Directive Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, and the agreement on a European Strategy on Plastics.

  • WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS?

    Plastic particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm. These can either be fragments of larger plastic items such as bottles or packages, or particles manufactured in this size (for example tiny spheres - microbeads - in facial scrubs or toothpastes).
    They can be detected in the sea water, on beaches and in the sediments around the world, and they could severely damage the marine ecosystem.

  • ARE MICROBEADS FORBIDDEN IN THE EU?

    No yet. So far, some countries have banned them or pledged to do it. Currently in Europe only France and United Kingdom stepped forward in this battle against Microbead Plastic pollution: France decided to ban single-use plastic materials by 2020 and the United Kingdom has announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017.

Dear Environment Ministers, we want to get rid off single-use plastics: Oceans are not a landfill!

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Yes, Greenpeace International or your local office can email or phone me about this and other campaigns with opportunities to take action.

Dear *NameofMinister*

Plastic waste is invading our environment, both at land and at sea. Scientists have estimated that, globally between 4.7- 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up our oceans every year, causing harm to marine life and leaving a toxic trail of plastic pollution that is also entering the food chain as plastic accumulates and breaks down into smaller fragments in the water and on the seabed.

All European waters have been found to contain plastic marine litter, including along the coasts, the continental shelf, and deep-sea waters .

Europe plays a key role within the global plastic industry. It is the second largest producer of plastic globally (around 50 million tonnes are produced every year). In the EU, packaging is the most common use of plastic, making up almost 40% of plastics demand. However, a lot of the plastic produced is used to make single-use products, which quickly lose their value through incineration, landfilling, or when they become marine litter.

Only 29.7% of post-consumer plastic waste which entered the waste stream was recycled in the EU in 2014. The rest was either landfilled or incinerated. In 2012, the EU-27 countries exported half of the plastics collected for recycling, equivalent to 3.4 million tonnes of plastic with an estimated value of EUR 1.7 billion (87% of which went to China).

Despite having demonstrated leadership on other environmental issues, the EU has clearly not taken sufficient action to solve plastic pollution and keep valuable resources in the economy.

The revision of the EU Waste Directives (Circular Economy package) during this first semester of 2017 gives the European Union the opportunity to take urgent measures to reduce single-use plastic at its source and position itself as a leader in the fight against plastic pollution. Therefore, I am calling on you to act to ensure meaningful measures for single use plastic waste elimination and reduction at source are embodied in EU law and to support the following key measures in the EU Council deliberations: