Being a mass-product for about 60 years plastic has changed the world. As a light and durable material, it plays an important role in our daily lives in food packaging, electronics, furniture or insulation of buildings. But however cool this was, now every year millions of tonnes of plastic waste (just in Europe 25.8 m) are generated, and only 20 percent of it is recycled. Can you imagine – up to 500.000 tonnes plastic waste enters the oceans each year only from the EU? Worldwide, about 8 million tons of plastic get into the ocean, equivalent to 35 shipping containers filled with plastic being dumped every hour.
The consequences are dramatic. Today, researchers found 38 million pieces of plastic waste on uninhabited islands in the South Pacific and marine litter in 100 percent of marine turtles species, 59 percent of whale species and 40 percent of seabird species. No matter if plastic beverage bottle, food packaging or plastic bags, the items we can find today at our beaches will remain for hundreds of years there and in the ocean. Plastic does not decompose, over time it breaks down into little pieces so-called microplastic. This has major consequences and only recently researchers started to study the impact of microplastics and found already traces in fish or sea salt. As approximately 80 percent of marine litter is land-based, these microparticles originate not only from plastic bottles and bags but also from clothes, car tyres, and paint.
In the EC report, Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union, Prof Mariana Mazzucatos suggests to reduce (within five to ten years) the plastic entering the marine environment by 90% and collecting more than half of the plastic currently present in our oceans, seas, and coastal areas. This is an enormous task considering the surface of 350 million km2 and a volume of 1300 million km3 of our oceans and seas.
The European Parliament Intergroup Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas (SEArica) supports an ambitious European agenda to tackle the challenge of plastic pollution and has taken the initiative to host the exhibition Ocean Plastics Lab, a joint initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Marine Research Consortium and the European Commission, DG Research and Innovation, on the Esplanade Solidarność from 9 – 19 April 2018 to raise further awareness of the problem but also to find possible solutions.
In the context of this exhibition, the conference will discuss the important role of science and innovation to achieve a healthy and a plastic-free ocean. With programmes such as Horizon 2020 the EU has the unique chance to take up the challenges of our time in a cross-sectoral and cross-border manner based on the knowledge and creativity of its excellent researchers and innovators.
We are proud that The Universal Sea can contribute to the Ocean Plastic Lab.