The European marine environment has become engulfed in litter, the majority of which is plastic. It is an entirely human created pollutant that has severe ecological impacts, as well as economic costs to marine industries and local authorities. It is a problem that respects no boundaries, and is not caused by one single culprit, but can be considered a symptom of our consumer society and the production of endless goods and the inappropriate methods of disposing of them. The evidence of the harm caused by marine litter is growing. It can be ingested by or entangle marine life, it breaks down into microscopic particles, attract and absorb dangerous chemicals, aid the spread of invasive species and dangerous pathogens, and has spread to every corner of our oceans.
The problem results from failures at an individual, local, national, EU and international level. Seas At Risk’s work focuses on the EU and international level to raise awareness of the problem and to advocate for effective and ambitious policy measures. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the only existing EU legislation that explicitly requires EU Member States to come up with measures to reduce marine litter. Under the directive, Member States are obliged to set targets, implement monitoring programmes and measures to reduce marine litter. The goal is to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020, the first deadline to assess whether or not the state of the European marine environment has improved. If Member States take this directive and the problem of marine litter seriously, measures will be necessary at all levels to address consumption patterns, waste disposal, and waste water disposal amoungst others.