Marine litter is one of the main threats to the environment. The largest share of marine litter consists of plastics that originate from a variety of sources, including shipping activities, ineffectively managed landfills, and public littering. In order to minimise and ultimately prevent further pollution of the marine environment, the full implementation of EU waste legislation and an increase in the efficiency of waste management around the globe are crucial. Moreover, the introduction of a Europe-wide ban on landfilling for plastic products and appropriate measures to expand recycling and recovery of plastic waste are necessary.
In areas where separate biowaste collection exists, compostable biowaste bags can help divert biowaste – including the bags in which it is collected – from landfills, thereby reducing the amount of plastic bags entering into the marine environment in the first place. Yet, biodegradable plastics should not be considered a solution to the problem of marine litter. Littering should never be promoted or accepted for any kind of waste, neither on land nor at sea – including all varieties of plastics. Instead, the issue needs to be addressed by educative and informative measures to raise awareness for proper and controlled ways of management, disposal, and recycling.
The UNEP report on ‘bioplastics and marine litter’ (2015) recognises that polymers, which biodegrade on land under favourable conditions, also biodegrade in the marine environment. The report also states, however, that this process is not calculable enough at this point in time, and biodegradable plastics are currently not a solution to marine litter. European Bioplastics (EUBP) agrees with the report’s call for further research and the development of clear standards for biodegradation in the marine environment. Currently, there is no international standard available that appropriately describes the biodegradation of plastics in the marine environment. However, a number of standardization projects are in progress at ISO and ASTM level on how to test marine biodegradation processes.