Table of Contents

  • Marine litter is a growing environmental problem, especially plastic material is accumulated in the seas where it will fragment to smaller pieces. Marine litter has severe consequences for the marine life, as well as for economy and social development.

  • This report is the outcome of the project “Marine litter and its sources in Nordic waters II” funded by the Nordic Waste Group (NAG) under The Nordic Council of Ministers in 2015–2016. The main aim of the project was to acquire knowledge of the major land-based litter sources affecting marine littering in the Nordic countries, thereby increasing knowledge of the relevant countermeasures. Since waste statistics do not tell us exactly what ends up in the sea, we have to use indirect information for the assessment. The project has developed a “Plug the Marine Litter Tap”-approach, a list of important potential local land-based sources of marine litter, that the individual municipality can evaluate based on their local knowledge. The approach is primarily designed to facilitate municipal efforts in combatting marine litter.

  • The main aim of this project is to increase knowledge about land-based sources of marine litter in the Nordic countries. Moreover we hope to raise awareness amongst officials at municipalities and authorities about the need to reduce the presence of litter in the marine environment and to suggest ways of achieving this goal. A “Plug the Marine Litter Tap”-approach has therefore been developed. This approach is based on official statistics in order to develop existing knowledge about potential marine litter sources in urban areas. The overall goal is that the approach will help local authorities identify the urban sources of marine litter and thereby lead to cost-effective methods of reducing it. We would like to emphasise that local knowledge is a prerequisite for the approach to be successful.

  • Unidentified pieces of plastic that originate from different kinds of single use packaging are the most common items found on Swedish beaches. This paints a pretty ugly picture of our habits and consumptions patterns. (Håll Sverige Rent, 2016) It is not a big secret where all the marine litter comes from, it comes from you and me. Regardless of emotional impact of this realisation, it is a huge economic cost for society and it has a massive negative impact on the marine environment and its wildlife. The final cost is yet to be revealed.

  • Marine legislation and policy documents are necessary approachs in combatting marine litter. For the Nordic countries, EU legislation is especially important, since it is applicable in all EU countries. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (2008/56/EC) is one of the most significant EU laws regulating the marine environment. The focus on marine litter increased when MSDF came into force. Marine litter is one of the eleven descriptors requiring national measures to achieve good environmental status. Another law that indirectly has great impact on marine litter is The Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), as it regulates waste management. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) is also of great significance, since a large amount of packaging ends up as litter in the marine environment and on beaches. (Newman et al. 2013) These three laws are briefly presented below, together with two Regional Action Plans for the Baltic Sea (HELCOM) and the North Sea (OSPAR) and EU's Circular Economy Package.

  • There are two main source streams for marine litter, land-based and sea-based. Information on land-based and sea-based litter sources, however, does not give much guidance on how to “Plug the Marine Litter Tap”. These sources have to be broken down to a more detailed level. Usually it is necessary to identify the different activities or sectors that generate waste and assess the risk for littering, whether intentional or accidental. In practically all cases, human behaviour and actions are behind the statistics.

  • In this easy to use “Plug the Marine Litter Tap” -approach we provide the information needed to determine which indicators to target with measures for reducing marine litter. The first step is to identify potential marine litter sources in the chosen area. By applying a selection of indicators to a chosen area, e.g. a municipality, local knowledge can be added to determine which indicators exert the most influence. This list can then be used to effectively search the statistics. The sources of the statistics are shown in the approach, and analysis of this data enables the municipality to employ targeted preventive measures. If the region or municipality is not yet measuring litter, a good idea is to start with that to establish a baseline for comparison and to measure the effect targeted measures have had.

  • Everyone wants litter-free seas but to achieve this vision we must have an understanding of the complexity of the problem. One factor is that once marine litter has entered the sea, there are very limited opportunities to clean it up. It is estimated that only 15% of the litter is washed up on the coast (UNEP, 2005) and only a few of the beaches can actually be cleaned, at a high cost to society. There are currently no techniques for cleaning large areas of the sea bottom or the water column. The seas are at risk of becoming a repository of human waste.