Plastic is a revolutionary material that can be utilised in practically all fields – from building materials to medical products and lunch boxes. Bio-based plastics and recycling are of increasing importance. However, the fact that plastic is an important material that has played a major role in social development does not diminish the problems involving marine littering.
Plastics are the most common type of waste in seas worldwide, including the Baltic Sea. Plastic material represents as high as 85 percent of waste, and vast plastic continents have been found floating around in the world’s oceans. If we do not take action, there may be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050.
The Baltic Sea requires significant care
The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted oceans in the world. It is surrounded by numerous countries and densely populated areas, and the fact that the Baltic Sea is linked to other oceans via the narrow Danish sounds means that plastics and discharges do not disperse. As a result, the Baltic Sea is a marine environment that requires significant care.
The problem of marine waste is fortunately attracting increasing attention, and the European Commission recently presented a comprehensive strategy on plastics within the framework of a circular economy.
One important part of the strategy relates to marine waste. The Commission has proposed new regulations to ensure that waste generated on board vessels or offshore does not remain offshore but is taken on shore and handled in ports by means of a shared landing system. The proposal from the Commission also comprises action to increase the incentive to reuse, repair and recycle plastics.
Plastic is not the problem
In the work to reduce waste, it is important to address the issues of how to deal with plastics and plastic products rather than the issue of plastics itself. In other words, plastic is not the problem. Plastic has a number of important functions in society. Instead of prohibiting the use of plastic, we need to make sure it does not end up in the sea or any other natural environment. The strategy on plastics provides high potential for Sweden and Europe to steer developments in the right direction.
Sweden has made relatively good progress and now has lower discharges and higher recycling of plastic – 45 percent of packaging – than most other countries. However, plastics in the sea and particularly in the Baltic Sea, which we share with many of our neighbouring countries, is a trans-border problem that must be jointly solved together with EU member states and, by extension, nations worldwide.
I believe that the new European Strategy for Plastics can be the beginning of a successful work that will benefit both those who live around the Baltic Sea and the environment in general.
Christofer Fjellner is a Swedish MEP (Group of the People's Party), and member of the Committee on International Trade. He has ben active in the Swedish Moderate Party for many years, and was the chairman of The Moderate youth League in 2002-2004. He wa elected Member of the European Parliament in 2004.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This text is a personal column. All opinions and other positions are the writer's.