Why is plastic pollution currently one of our most pressing environmental issues?

Our magic Mediterranean sea represents less than 1% of the global ocean surface, yet hosts almost 20% of global marine biodiversity, with a high level of endemism of up to nearly 50% for some species. The Tara Expeditions Foundation outlined in 2014 that with 450 million people live along the Mediterranean coasts in 22 bordering countries, and with almost 30% of the world’s maritime traffic being concentrated in the Mediterranean, the region’s valuable marine biodiversity has inevitably faced huge ecological pressures. 

Plastic pollution was a key topic on high profile environmental issues last year. Research has stipulated that humans have made 8.3 billion tons of plastic since its production in the 1950s. With only approximately 30% of these plastics still being in use, and approximately 79% ending up in our landfills and natural environments, it is no surprise that micro plastics are being found in the most remote places on earth. 

Plastic does not biodegrade, it breaks down into smaller microplastics over time. About the size of plankton, these microplastics (which can contain toxic and harmful contaminants) are ending up in our water supply, are being ingested by animals, and inevitably have now been found in the human digestive system. The plastic crisis therefore is not only a threat to our natural environments, but also a direct threat to our own human health. 

The Mediterranean Context

The Mediterranean, an enclosed sea area, suffers from the highest density of microplastic in the world: approximately 115,000 particles per square kilometer. A recent report from WWF states

“Every year, 0.57 million tonnes of plastic enters Mediterranean waters. This is equivalent to dumping 33,800 plastic bottles into the sea every minute. Without action, this number will keep growing as plastic waste generation in the region is expected to quadruple by 2050.”

The same report illustrates that the Mediterranean region produce 10% of all plastic goods, making it the world’s 4th largest producer. Mediterranean plastic goods production reached almost 38 million tonnes in 2016. This is equivalent to producing 76 kilograms of plastic goods for each person living in the region, which is 23 kilograms more than the global average

According to a recent study on the effects of plastic pollution within the Mediterranean, 66% of 171 marine birds had plastic in their stomachs, with the worst affected species being the endangered Balearic Shearwaters. Considering in addition to this that up to 80% of marine pollution originates from terrestrial based activities,it is not surprising that businesses and consumers are starting to focus on how they can contribute to a much needed change.  

The Fight Plastic Fund

Recognizing that plastic pollution is one of the most urgent challenges of our time, Rotary La Valette Malta and the Integritas Group Malta collaborated in the launch of The Fight Plastic Fund last year. They understand that while there are many pressing issues facing the island of Malta, the prevalence of plastic waste is likely one of the most urgent ones, and Club members are dedicated helping to make a change.

With Rotary La Valette District 2110 forming part of Rotary International – the world’s largest service organisation, their objective is to work in collaboration with the Rotary community, to promote peace, protect the environment, fight disease, support humanitarian initiatives and enhance local economies.

The Fight Plastic Fund raised a winning pot of €10,000 in 2019 and launched the initiative inviting local NGOs, social enterprises and individuals to apply. The shortlisted applicants had the opportunity to pitch with their projects that were specifically offering solutions that targeted plastic pollution here in Malta. 

Sustainable Eats & Treats and Eco Market Malta were the lucky winners of this generous environmental fund. Eco Market Malta have been hosting fantastic monthly eco markets, showcasing local sustainable artisans and ethical entrepreneurs. Their aim is to bring together a local community of ethical vendors and their Eco-friendly services, so conscious consumers can enjoy a series of sustainable products, interesting talks, workshops, social gatherings, music, art and entertainment – all aimed towards raising awareness about safeguarding our precious environment.

We are both excited to be working with local businesses this year promoting responsible production and consumption, and the values of Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12). 

What can we do?

We all have a role to play in working towards shared sustainability goals as the natural environment which sustains us, is also shared. You can start by making some small changes, invest in a reusable coffee cup and water bottle, and invest in reusable produce and shopping bags. Peel away from the culture of diposability as much as you can by adopting habits that reduce waste in the first place.

Supporting local businesses who are working towards the necessary change required, and who are aiming to offer their most responsible service to the public, is more important than ever. Outlets offering a sustainable service are investing in people and plant. Every time we purchase a produce or service, we are supporting a brand, a supply chain, a work force, and a decision maker.

Support the good guys this year.