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The role of marine environmental policy in mitigating marine litter in Europe

Marine littering is one of the most problematic side effects of environmental pollution, particularly in the process of production, consumption, and WASTE of plastic products. Moreover, the disintegration of plastic can produce further substances that are hazardous to human and animal health, namely microplastics. Microplastics can derive from larger debris or can be purposefully created to be added to other substances. Many products we use in our everyday life contain microplastics. The focus of the research is to shed a light on the destructive effects that microplastics have on marine life and the environment, through the perspective of the EU legal framework on the matter. The general framework of EU marine environmental policy is presented in directive 2008/56/CE. It represents the starting point of common actions in Europe posing the objectives to be achieved by states through their national legislation.

The European action plan is to tackle the issue of pollution by microplastics. It is necessary to address the problem not only from a perspective of human health but through holistic lenses that characterize all the future objectives in the struggle for climate action. First, to highlight the necessary shift from a human-centered policy to a philosophy of “ecocentrism” according to which the protection of nature and the environment are not only functional to the protection of human life but much more worthy and necessary per se. Some of the damages caused by microplastics to marine life are now evident. It can attach to the surface of animals’ bodies and reduce oxygen consumption. Also, it can block the digestive system of animals that ingest it. Secondly, to present the current state of affairs of EU engagement in the field of micro-plastic.

There is no law, at the European level, that comprehensively covers the matter, rather it is covered incidentally through different specific objectives. However, the European Action Plan “Toward zero pollution for Air, Water, and Soil” explicitly mentions as one of its objectives the reduction by 30% of microplastics circulating in the EU. Other steps are the preparation by ECHA of a restriction dossier on the use of microplastics, and the will to address and measure unintentionally released microplastic in the environment and the production line. However, the main framework for the protection of the marine environment in the EU does not contain any reference to the issue of the release of microplastics in the marine environment. It is shocking, above all considering the latest European objective of the green deal and the construction of a circular economy. Directive 2008/56/CE poses time limits for the fulfillment of its objectives in 2022.

The policy recommendations aim to assess the implementation of the directive and its actual effectiveness for the protection of marine life through the analysis of the performance of coastal member states of the EU, and the reports produced by the European Commission. Recommendations to include in the policy framework related to marine environmental protection one of the aspects of main concern, that is pollution and health problems to marine life caused by microplastics, and the consideration in the creation of a such framework of one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, target 14.1 to prevent and reduce marine pollution of all kinds.


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