BiodiversiTerre conference: protecting the oceans from plastic pollution

BiodiversiTerre conference: protecting the oceans from plastic pollution

Posted on 08 June 2018.

80% of waste at sea is plastic.

Veolia attended BiodiversiTerre, 2 - 5 June 2018. This event was organised at the Place de la République in Paris and aimed to ensure that the general public is aware of environmental problems. The event focuses on the topic of the World Environment Day each year. This day has been celebrated on 5 June since its launch in 1974. The topic for 2018: Beat Plastic Pollution.

On 5 June, the closing day for BiodiversiTerre, the UN organised a round table with various experts to discuss the priorities and solutions of this oceanic challenge. This provided Veolia with the opportunity to present its commitment in this respect.

The ocean, the world's dustbin

Three key figures demonstrate the scale of plastic pollution in the oceans.

  • Figure one: 80% of marine waste is sourced from land and carried in by rivers and streams.
  • Figure two: over 50% of wastewater around the world – from towns and industry – is discharged into the sea without any treatment. This is particularly caused by the absence of waste treatment systems in 70% of developing countries, notably Asia.
  • Figure three: 80% of waste at sea is plastic.

"We have found plastic waste right up to the remotest areas of the North pole"indicated André Abreu, director of international policies of the Tara Expeditions foundation. And yet, plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in the natural environment. On this basis, the Ellen MacArthur foundation considers that, at the current rate, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050.

Why is this a problem?

Quite simply because plastic waste is toxic for the environment. "Plastic in itself is not harmful, however the substances used to manufacture it - inks, polymers, colouring agents, etc. are pollutants" explained André Abreu.
The main victim of this pollution is clearly biodiversity: the coral reefs are rapidly disappearing while marine mammals are ingesting plastic waste, which they confuse with food.
However, the most complex issue is this: the oceans are our planet's lungs. The oceans produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb 1/3 of terrestrial CO2. The oceans therefore play a role in climate control: If the oceans are over-polluted, they will cease to be able to absorb the effects of global warming, as they are currently doing. The oceans are home to the largest biodiversity reserve in the world and provide food to mankind.
Finding a solution to reduce marine plastic pollution is therefore urgent. The good news is, solutions exist, but they are mostly on land!

The key role played by citizens

Citizens are a key source of leverage. According to Jérôme Lachase, strategy director for the start-up, ZEI, "we need to go beyond awareness programmes, we need active citizens";.

The priority is to reduce the volume of waste sent to tips as far as possible. Different types of action are feasible in this respect.
To begin with, we must modify our consumer lifestyles by buying loose products wherever possible, and avoiding disposable plastic (cups, straws, cotton buds, etc.) and cosmetics containing micro-plastics, which are serious pollutants (exfoliants, toothpaste, etc.).
In addition, it is essential to sort waste to simplify recycling. "Many companies have informed us of their drive to increase their use of recycled plastic in the design of their packaging, however recycled waste flows are still inadequate" explained Amélie Rouvin, Veolia Circular Economy manager.

Other types of action can be considered. The Run Eco Team association currently federates 50,000 runners in 103 countries worldwide, who collect waste while jogging and share their finds on social networks.
The ZEI start-up is betting on a reward system, encouraging citizens to adopt an ecological attitude. The ZEI website lists a series of easy responsible actions which people can try on a daily basis in the home environment: donate and swap objects, volunteer, etc. All of these actions can be used to earn points, which can then be used to buy products, go on holiday or obtain tickets for events. This system is an excellent means of making ecology fun and appealing.

Veolia is taking action to protect our oceans

Beating plastic pollution also requires regulatory reforms – in this respect, the French government recently published its Circular Economy roadmap – and involving companies.
On this basis, in 2018, large groups such as Coca-Cola, Danone and Carrefour announced their intention to increase the amount of recycled plastics used in their packaging, up to 100% in some cases.

The Veolia group also considered the BiodiversiTerre conference as an opportunity to share its strategy to reduce sea and ocean pollution. Its approach is based on three complementary lines:

  1. Treat pollution flows from the land on the coast, before they reach the ocean, by collecting and recycling (clean the coast, treat wastewater to limit discharge at sea, etc.);
  2. Prevent waste in order to reduce territorial vulnerability, by designing innovative solutions to ensure 0 waste and 0 discharges at sea;
  3. Modify production systems and consumer habits to create a circular economy, transforming terrestrial waste into resources before it reaches the sea.

To end this conference on a positive note, Sophie Bonnier from Citéo reiterated that 87% of French households sort their waste. This is good news, and reminds us all that every eco-gesture counts. "You may think that it's just a drop in the ocean, but think about it, the ocean is billions of drops of water!" concluded Amélie Rouvin.