A new report by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) finds that an estimated 229,000 tonnes of plastic is leaking into the Mediterranean Sea every year.

This is equivalent to over 500 shipping containers each day!

Unless significant measures are taken, the reports notes, this will at least double by 2040.

Macro-plastics resulting from mismanaged waste make up 94% of the total plastic leakage. Once washed into the sea, plastic mostly settles in the sediments in the form of microplastics (particles smaller than 5mm). The report estimates that more than one million tonnes of plastic have accumulated in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

According to the report, Egypt (around 74,000 tonnes/year), Italy (34,000 tonnes/year) and Turkey (24,000 tonnes/year) are the countries with the highest plastic leakage rates into the Mediterranean, mainly due to high quantities of mismanaged waste and large coastal populations.

Per capita, however, Montenegro (8kg/year/person), Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia (each contributing an estimated 3kg/year/person) have the highest levels of leakage.

Plastic pollution can cause long-term damage to terrestrial and marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Plastic waste releases chemical substances such as softeners or fire retardants into the environment, which can be harmful to both ecosystems and human health, especially in a semi-closed sea such as the Mediterranean. As this report makes clear, current and planned measures are not enough to reduce plastic leakage and prevent these impacts, said Minna Epps, Director, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme.

More than 50,000 tonnes of plastic leakage into the Mediterranean could be avoided each year if waste management were to be improved to global best practice standards in the top 100 contributing cities alone.

Additionally, the report highlights that bans can be effective interventions if widely implemented – for instance, it estimates that a global ban on plastic bags in the basin would further reduce plastic leakage by around 50,000 tonnes per year.

The report Mare Plasticum: The Mediterranean is based on a compilation of data from field studies and using the IUCN marine plastic footprint methodology and developed in partnership with Environmental Action. It estimates plastic fluxes from 33 countries around the Mediterranean basin.