Floating litter in the Black Sea: abundance and composition

Source: Science for Environment Policy

Reliable data regarding marine debris pollution in the Black Sea are lacking. This study provides the first account of the abundance and types of litter floating in the north-western part of the Sea. This information will help to develop effective solutions for marine litter in the region and therefore to achieve the EU objective of ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020.

Marine litter is a growing problem that poses a threat to aquatic wildlife, human health and the economy. However, attempts to understand the scale of the problem have been sporadic. In several regions, the occurrence, abundance and distribution of marine litter remain unknown. The Black Sea is one such example.

This expanse of water is particularly vulnerable to pollution, as it is almost completely enclosed, surrounded by industrialised countries, home to shipping routes, fisheries and tourist activities, and a large drainage basin. Although a known vulnerable area, data on marine litter in the region — and in particular debris floating on the surface — is lacking.

This study therefore attempted to quantify floating macrodebris in the Black Sea, specifically in the north-western zone, through a visual survey. The survey was conducted during a research cruise in June 2014 as part of the EU funded project CoCoNet1. The researchers assessed all floating debris larger than 2 cm in an area off the Romanian coast, between the Danube delta and port of Constanta.

All observations were made by the same observer during the daytime and in good weather conditions. The size, type and position of debris were recorded. Items were split into two categories: anthropogenic marine debris, which included styrofoam and plastic, and natural marine debris, which was subdivided into wood, algae and others. The densities of floating debris were estimated using Black Sea Commission recommended methodology.

Overall, 30 sampling areas were surveyed during the cruise, covering an overall length of 186 km, and a total of 225 floating items were sighted. The most abundant debris was natural in most locations, likely because the region is close to the Danube delta, the best preserved river delta in Europe2. Most of the objects sighted were pieces of wood or other debris from rivers (75.5%). However, plastics were by far the most abundant type of man-made litter, comprising over 89% of all anthropogenic items sighted.

Although natural litter outnumbered anthropogenic equivalents, the latter still represents a significant problem. The authors say the amount of man-made litter found was high and comparable to reports from other offshore and coastal locations, including the Mediterranean Sea.

This study sheds new light on floating debris in Romanian waters, finding litter densities peaking at almost 136 items per square kilometre in some areas. However, data is still lacking compared to other regions and these results are just a baseline snapshot of the situation. The authors recommend regular basin wide surveys to fully quantify the problem and to identify the main sources and accumulation areas. This will pave the way for measures to mitigate the problem.

The researchers also say that the enforcement of regional strategies for marine litter should be improved, as should international cooperation. Regardless of where it comes from, once litter arrives in the marine environment, currents and winds transport it across borders. Addressing litter in the Black Sea therefore requires the collaboration of all bordering states.

1. Towards COast to COast NETworks (COCONET) is supported by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme. See: www.coconet-fp7.eu

2. Source: UNESCO. See: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/588

Source: Suaria, G., Melinte-Dobrinescu, M., Ion, G. & Aliani, S. (2015). First observations on the abundance and composition of floating debris in the North-western Black Sea. Marine Environmental Research 107: 45-49. DOI: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2015.03.011


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launches “Delivering the circular economy – a toolkit for policymakers”

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation today launches the results of its latest research which provides, for the first time, an actionable toolkit for policymakers who wish to embark on a circular economy transition.

The toolkit complements the recently published report Growth Within: A circular economy vision for a competitive Europe
by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Stiftungsfonds für Umweltökonomie und Nachhaltigkeit (SUN) and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, by offering an actionable ‘how-to’ guide for policymakers inspired by the vision of how the circular economy could look, as explored in the Growth Within report.

Delivering the circular economy – a toolkit for policymakers is the result of a collaboration led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with the Danish Business Authority and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency as key contributors, especially in a pilot study of Denmark. The toolkit was developed in cooperation with Danish and international stakeholders, including leading policymakers, businesses and academics. The McKinsey Center for Business and Environment provided analytical support. NERA Economic Consulting provided support for the macroeconomic and policy analysis. The project was funded by the MAVA Foundation.

The report provides a step-by-step methodology including 11 tools, which aim to:

  • Assess a country’s circular economy starting position, define its ambition level, and select focus areas
  • Systematically screen, sector-by-sector, circular economy opportunities, identify barriers that limit these opportunities and analyse policy options to overcome these barriers
  • Assess economy-wide implications.

The case study of Denmark applies the tools presented in the methodology, and evaluates opportunities in five focus sectors: food and beverage, construction and real estate, machinery, plastic packaging and hospitals. The study demonstrates that even in a country with a starting position as advanced as Denmark, there are significant opportunities to scale up the transition towards the circular economy. Modelling conducted suggests that opportunities identified in these five focus sectors, covering just 25% of the economy, could lead, in Denmark and by 2035, to 0.8–1.4% additional GDP growth, the creation of 7,000–13,000 job equivalents, a 3–7% reduction in carbon footprint, and 5–50% reduction in virgin resource consumption for selected materials.

The report underlines that circular business opportunities are mainly hindered by non-financial barriers and suggests that a sector by sector approach would be the most appropriate to identify the most relevant opportunities, barriers and policy options. Furthermore, system-wide measures, such as broader changes to the fiscal system, could support the transition towards the circular economy.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, commented: “By helping policymakers create the right conditions for circular business opportunities, and to identify clear benefits for their national economies, the toolkit provides a platform for new collaborations between industry and policymakers – building momentum towards the system-level change needed for transition to the circular economy”.

The toolkit has received positive reactions from, amongst others, the London Waste and Recycling Board, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, C2DE, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the Catalan Ministry for Business and Labour, WRAP, Haarlemmermeer, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, two members of national and regional parliaments, Carlsberg, the Danish Business Authority, and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

Business frontrunners call for strengthened Circular Economy Package with economic incentives

Last 21st May a coalition of business associations, representing thousands of businesses, called for a strengthened Circular Economy Package, based on political leadership and ambitious policies on waste prevention. The broadly supported manifesto serves as input from a frontrunners’ business perspective on the renewed Circular Economy Package, based on the obstacles for circular business as experienced by companies. The circular economy holds the promise of 2 million new jobs, estimated net savings EU-wide for businesses up to 600 billions of euros, and hundreds of millions of tonnes of avoided waste.


Strong government policies to mainstream circular business are crucial to reap the benefits of a circular economy. This requires leadership and investments in circular innovation beyond traditional measures. The manifesto calls for the EU and member states to act as launching customer by widespread implementation of green public procurement. In addition, the coalition calls for targets for maintenance, repair, reuse, refurbishment and cascading next to the existing ones for landfill and recycling, as well as flexible competition policy and the foundation of a European Institute for Circular Economy. Finally, the manifesto recommends a Circular Frontrunners Programme as well as sectoral and cross-sectoral programmes.

 Economic incentives

In order to reach the targets, we ask for economic incentives to create framework conditions for companies to implement circular business models. Fiscal incentives are crucial to stimulate consumers to buy circular products and services. This can be achieved by adjusting European VAT regulations to allow for VAT rate differentiation on the basis of circularity. This is important to stimulate consumers to buy circular products and services. In addition, improved extended producer responsibility schemes can reward producers of circular products with lower costs, while providing considerable funds for investing in improved waste management.  The manifesto also recommends tax breaks for externally audited integrated reporting.

Expand existing measures

The coalition is in favour of expanding the Ecodesign Directive into a directive for Circular Design. In addition, the manifesto calls for continuing calls for proposals in the field of circular economy in Horizon 2020 and the Eco-Innovation Programme, including calls for economic mechanism design.

Broad support

The manifesto of the Dutch Sustainable Business Association De Groene Zaak, MVO Nederland and Circle Economy has been signed by, Entreprendre Vert, EcoPreneur, Green Alliance, GreenBudgetEurope, INDR, the Institut de l’Economie Circulaire, Plan C and UnternehmensGrün, which together represent thousands of frontrunning businesses throughout Europe. It also contains supportive statements from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), ACR+ and the Dutch Society for the Protection of Nature and Environment (Natuur & Milieu) and quotes from several businesses.

G7 Science Academies’ Statement 2015: Future of the Ocean: Impact of Human Activities on Marine Systems

Human activities are driving major changes in the oceans of the world. One key driver of changes is elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere caused by human activities. This leads to ocean acidification, warming and de-oxygenation, changes in ocean circulation, continued sea level rise, and an altered marine productivity and biodiversity. Other key drivers are pollution with nutrients, chemicals and plastic, overfishing and spreading of invasive species. All of the changes in the ocean have profound effects on human wellbeing and human societies in many regions of the Earth.

The G7 Academies of Sciences call for: (1) changing the course of nations’ CO2 emissions, (2) reducing and further regulating man-made pollution of the sea, (3) ending overfishing and preserving marine biodiversity and ecosystem function through research-based management and (4) enhancing international scientific cooperation to better predict, manage and mitigate future changes in the ocean, and their impacts on human societies and the environment.

Among the proposed actions, marine litter is included as:

Halt the dumping and regulate the discharge of waste and toxic materials. Take urgent action to reduce the input of plastic debris from all sources into the marine system.

 Read more

Polystyrene nanoparticles affect fish behaviour and metabolism

Source: Science for Environment Policy

Fish fed polystyrene nanoparticles are less active and show changes to their brains and metabolism, according to a study by Swedish and Danish researchers. The findings suggest that nanoparticles in the environment could have a major impact on fish and aquatic ecosystems.

Nanoparticles are increasingly used in consumer products, such as cosmetics, and enter the environment via sewage systems. Plastic waste, found throughout the world’s oceans, also disintegrates over time, producing plastic nano-sized particles. Nanoparticles in industrial and consumer products are controlled by existing regulations such as the REACH or cosmetics Regulations; the underlying assessments are complex as many substances behave differently at the nano-scale. The effect of nanoparticle exposure on people and animals is not fully understood, although there is evidence that some may be harmful, particularly to fish.

As a result, researchers need to establish how nanoparticles affect fish and other aquatic organisms to prevent the degradation or loss of aquatic ‘ecosystem services’, such as the supply of fish for food, as well as to minimise human exposure to those that are hazardous. A better understanding of nanoparticle behaviour will enable policymakers to develop appropriate regulations for their safe use and disposal.

To investigate the effects of nanoparticles on fish, the researchers introduced nanoparticles into the diet of the Crucian carp (Carassius carassius) in laboratory tests which recreated a simple food chain.

The particles were made of polystyrene and around 24–27 nanometres (nm) in size. The researchers began by introducing the particles to green algae at a concentration of 9.3 trillion particles per ml, which were eaten by water fleas (Daphnia magna). These in turn were fed to a group of carp once every three days, and the fish consumed around 130 mg of nanoparticles per feed. A separate group of carp received the same diet but without the nanoparticles.

The behaviour of both groups of fish while feeding was filmed on this first day, and after 25 and 62 days of the experiment. At the end of the experiment, the carps’ organs were weighed and measured and the researchers used a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to examine differences in metabolism between the two groups.

The behavioural recordings showed that nanoparticle-fed fish fed for twice as long, moved more slowly, and were less active after feeding. They also swam closer together.

The NMR results showed clear differences between the two groups of fish in their livers and muscles. These changes consisted of a series of small changes to many different molecules produced by metabolic reactions (‘metabolites’), rather than one or two major differences.

Physically, the brains and muscles differed between the two groups, with nanoparticle-fed fish showing heavier, swollen-looking brains that were whiter and fluffy in texture, due to increased water content.

The results suggest that polystyrene nanoparticles have wide-ranging effects on fish behaviour, metabolism and physiology. Fish that fed on food contaminated with nanoparticles appeared to have less energy, possibly because their energy reserves were depleted or inaccessible due to metabolic changes. Slower, less active feeding is likely to lead to smaller fish, which could affect fish harvests and other ecosystem services.

Previous work has shown that polystyrene molecules interact with fats, including those in cell membranes. However, the researchers caution that further research is needed to understand how these nanoparticles affect metabolism and brain structure and how these link to the observed behavioural changes.

Source: Mattsson, K., Ekvall, M.T., Hansson, L-A., Linse, S., Malmendal, S. & Cedervall, T. (2015). Altered behaviour, physiology and metabolism in fish exposed to polystyrene nanoparticles. Environmental Science and Technology 49: 553-561. DOI: 10.1021/es5053655.

Microplastics a new threat to Baltic

Coastal & MarinE-News

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.

There’s a new ecological concern about the troubled Baltic Sea.

A report says there’s a threat now from substances found in ordinary items from the bathroom shelf.

Microplastics are small particles of plastic, just 1 to 5 millimeters thick. They’re found in ordinary hygienic products, like toothpaste and deodorant. And according to a new study, they are affecting the environment of the already threatened Baltic Sea.

The report is from the Baltic Eye think tank at Stockholm University, and shows that every year 40 tons of microplastics from hygienic products alone are ending up in the sea. There they can adversely affect reproduction and can even interfere with feeding among fish, shellfish, plankton, and other organisms. Katja Broeg is an ecotoxicologist at Baltic Eye, who…

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