Introducing deposit return systems (DRS) and extended producers responsibility (EPR) schemes with full cost of litter clean up covered by producers are amongst the most successful policy measures at reducing single-use plastic litter while having positive economic and employment impacts in the Mediterranean region, according to our latest research commissioned and funded by the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC).

We joined forces with SCP/RAC, which is one of the Regional Activity Centres established in the framework of UN Environment / Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP), to develop an Information Document on the production, consumption, end-of-life management and impacts associated with beverage bottles, including caps and lids; food containers (bowls, clamshells, trays); straws and cigarette filters in Egypt, Morocco, Montenegro and Greece.

The Information Document will support the development of regional guidelines to tackle single-use plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, being prepared by SCP/RAC through the Mediterranean Trust Fund as requested by the contracting parties of the Barcelona Convention as part of the Mediterranean Action Plan. Once finalised, the guidelines will be put forward for adoption at the Barcelona Convention COP22 meeting in December.

The marine plastic problem in the Mediterranean is extensive, with 229,000 tonnes of plastic litter estimated to leak into the sea every year. Despite only covering 1% of the world’s ocean, the Mediterranean is estimated to hold up to 55% of all floating ocean plastic particles.

Our research modelled the socioeconomic and environmental impact of a range of policy measures: DRS for beverage containers; EPR, with full cost coverage of litter collections; information campaigns; consumption levies; and bans.

We found that introducing a DRS was the most successful of the policy measures in reducing marine plastic litter, showing it would prevent a combined 16,000 tonnes of marine litter by 2030, as well as saving 620,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Meanwhile, an EPR system which sees packaging producers bear financial responsibility for litter prevention and clean up would prevent 10,000 tonnes of marine litter, and was shown to be the most impactful in terms of reducing the item count of single-use plastic items, reducing the number of items covered by the system ending up as marine litter by 55%.

The reduction in plastic litter brought about by the combination of a DRS and EPR system would be equivalent to nearly 8,600 truck-loads of plastic waste per year[1] in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both a DRS and EPR system would also have a significant positive economic impact, with a DRS creating 11,500 jobs and saving €15 million in waste management costs, and both measures saving millions of euros in external environmental costs – €2.2 billion for a DRS and €1.4 billion for an EPR.

As part of the document, Eunomia made a number of recommendations for the regional policy guidelines. These included:

  • Improve waste collection and separation, particularly along coastal areas and waterways;
  • Use bans on single-use plastic items and levies on other single-use non-plastic items side by side to maximise their effect;
  • Implement a DRS for beverage containers;
  • Implement nationwide drinking water and refill systems;
  • Improve data availability and data collection; and
  • Maximise the sorting of plastics from residual waste prior to landfill or energy recovery.

Hara Xirou, Head of South East Europe at Eunomia, commented: “We are very pleased to collaborate with SCP/RAC and national experts towards a common goal to support the development of regional guidelines to tackle single-use plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, as part of the Mediterranean Action Plan. Aside from a well-functioning DRS and EPR scheme, special attention should be paid to measures which drive a shift in consumption away from single-use plastic to multi-use alternatives, such as information campaigns, bans and consumption leveis, that lead to a carbon benefit.

“Increased reuse also leads to waste prevention and associated carbon benefits from reduced incineration. These benefits significantly offset the additional greenhouse gas emissions produced through washing, and the decrease in carbon benefits from recycling, as waste prevention reduces total tonnage of waste available for recycling decreases.”

Enrique De Villamore, director of SCP/RAC, commented: “SCP/RAC is working to find ways of preventing plastic leakages in the environment, particularly in the marine and coastal ecosystems, while delivering innovative solutions improving social wellbeing and turning the potential challenges of the post-COVID recovery into opportunities for the transition of countries to green and circular economies. The research commissioned to Eunomia in preparation of the guidelines on single-use plastic products provides us with key elements to develop them and offers for the first time key information on potential impact of measures in the Southern Mediterranean. This will be a great contribution from SCP/RAC to the Contracting Parties of the Barcelona, supporting their commitment to combat the negative effects of plastic pollution”

You can find the information document in full on the Eunomia and SCP/RAC website

[1] Based on a standard Refuse Collection Vehicle – 3 tonnes / per truck

Image courtesy of Stefan Gara via flickr (CC BY 2.0.)