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Baltic Plastic: How can businesses in Germany and Sweden contribute to reducing plastic pollution

Article by Edwige Cavan

Image by Michael Held

Every year, 400 million tons of plastic are produced, and at least 14 million tons disastrously enter our oceans. Marine plastic is detrimental to human health, food safety, marine wildlife, and the economy of coastal areas, and it is of special concern because plastic decomposes extremely slowly. In the Baltic Sea, plastic waste constitutes 70% of marine litter and contributes significantly to environmental degradation alongside other sources of agricultural, industrial, and urban pollution; atmospheric deposition; overfishing; and invasive species.

What industries contribute to marine plastic pollution in the Baltic Sea?

The most common plastic litter items found around the Baltic are polystyrene pieces; food and drink packaging such as cups, lids, bottles, containers, wrappers, and packets; and single-use cutlery. Other contributors to plastic pollution include abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear as well as tourism and recreational activities. Furthermore, the rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea, such as the Göta and Oder, transport plastic waste generated in industrial areas by automotive manufacturing, machinery production, metalworking, electronics, pharmaceutical and chemical production, and shipping and logistics activities.

What legal frameworks protect the Baltic Sea?

Addressing plastic pollution requires national and supranational efforts. The 1974 Helsinki Convention established the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), which is responsible for environmental policymaking at the regional level. HELCOM has developed a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter to address waste prevention and management, microplastics, single-use plastics, and activities related to shipping and fishing. EU initiatives, such as the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (2009) and the directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (2019), as well as national legislations help promote circular economy practices and the sustainable use and protection of the Baltic Sea.

What can businesses do to reduce their dependence on plastic and generate less waste?

Recycling alone will not solve plastic pollution: approximately 95% of the value of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy after a short first-use cycle, and research shows that recycling may be a source of microplastic pollution. Instead, the solution lies in eliminating or reusing plastic items as much as possible. Adopting circular economy practices helps reduce plastic pollution and includes fostering innovation in business models, materials, packaging design, and reprocessing technologies, as well as in material circulation. Examples of recent innovations in packaging include Ooho, an edible, biodegradable membrane made of seaweed, and Apeel, a plant-based coating for protecting fruits and vegetables. Additionally, moving from liquid to solid products helps minimize the need for plastic packaging.

Where to start?

Reducing plastic waste starts with gathering knowledge about your business’ plastic consumption. Begin with an audit of how much plastic is thrown away. Moving towards plastic avoidance also requires education. Providing training for your employees and designing educational material for your customers to help them understand how they can make wiser consumer choices and reduce their plastic consumption will make a positive impact both on their behavior and on your brand image. Moreover, setting clear, written, and trackable goals will create an incentive for your staff—especially if you establish a reward system.

Several EU funding programs support businesses in their journey towards plastic elimination. They include the Structural Funds, European Fund for Strategic Investments, Circular Economy Finance Support Platform, and Horizon 2020. Also, organizations with expertise in sustainability can help businesses design their action plans and start their transformation towards plastic-free operations, thus contributing to the recovery of the Baltic Sea.

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