Fifty percent of waste found into Greek seas are plastic bags, plastic bottles and aluminum cans for beer and soft drinks, Professor Giorgos Papatheodorou of the Marine Geology and Natural Oceanography Laboratory at Patras University said over the weekend.
“Our research has led us to an important conclusion. That 50 percent of the waste that we find in Greek seas are plastic bags, plastic water bottles and aluminum cans. This allows us to plan policies. These three packaging materials are responsible for 50 pct of the pollution load,” he said.
Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, the professor also revealed that, based on research findings over the years, the amount of waste on the seabed has actually increased in the last 15 years, in spite of the introduction of environmental legislation to protect against this.
“This means that we need to make our legislative framework stricter but also tighten up the mechanisms to ensure that the legislative framework is implemented,” he said.
According to Papatheodorou, research into plastic waste in the Greek seas gradually got underway in the 1990s and continues at an increasing pace to the present day. “I consider that the international scientific community has been taken aback by the extent of the problem, since we now consider that plastic pollution of the oceans is perhaps the greatest environmental issue that we face in the 21st century.”
Regarding Greek seas, in particular, Papatheodorou said the picture was “incomplete” in spite of research conducted by several teams in the country: “In reality we have data on the plastic pollution in the Patras Gulf, the Ionian Sea and the Saronic Gulf, where we have data that I consider to be to some degree reliable. Significant densities of plastic waste have been found there at the bottom of the sea, ranging from 500 waste items per square kilometre and in the Saronic Gulf reach as high as 3,500 waste items per square kilometre.”
Plastic is the predominant material, followed by metal, Papatheodorou told ANA, while noting that a European Union directive for a complete ban of disposable plastic by 2021 was “a move in the right direction that we must implement in Greece.”
“Plastics must interest us, given that they end up in the marine environment. We must link any information about restricting plastic and one-use packaging with the marine environment because this is where it inevitably turns up. Greece, as an islant complex, is therefore facing a serious problem.”
According to Papatheodorou, the EU response was belated since the seriousness of the problem that will arise in terms of marine pollution by plastics had not initially been understood, but efforts were now being made to inform and sensitise the public, combined with legislation, which he said will “slowly bring about changes in the behaviour of citizens.”
Among the most important research results and goals, Prof. Papatheodorou noted, was to identify where the pollutants and waste come from, thus enabling action to stop pollution at its source. “Once the waste has entered the marine environment, the battle has been lost,” he noted. “The aim is to plan policies that will stop the waste.”
In Greece, he said, the waste predominately comes from the land (80 pct) while 20 pct originates in the sea, from shipping and leisure craft.
“The problem has become immense; it is time for policies and their correct implementation and, in fact, more stringent policies as regards protection of the marine environment and plastics. We don’t have time to delay any longer. Clearly, awareness and sensitization campaigns are key and the central action we must carry out becausse it appears to have a real imprint on the marine environment. Alongside the campaigns, we must to a great degree strengthen our country in terms of recycling waste and sorting at source,” he said.