The Mediterranean Coastal Waste Problem

With recent research done by the University of Barcelona’s marine scientists, the polyethylene used in plastic bags and cling film makes up most of the plastic waste found in waters around the coasts of Mediterranean countries, totalling 54.5%. Along with that, polyester that is used in clothing, furnishing and textiles makes up 9.7%. Plastic in general makes up over 60% of Mediterranean coastal waste.


In some cases, areas around the coast had maximum concentrations upwards to 500,000 plastics per square kilometre. According to one of the university’s scientists involved in the study (which focused on the coasts of Catalonia, Murcia and Almeria in Spain), Dr. William de Haan: “These results coincide with studies conducted in other regions of the Mediterranean, a marine ecosystem regarded as one of the biggest scuppers of floating microplastic worldwide.”


At the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to plastic’s damage, there are the statistics of how it impacted the coasts of Tordera and Besos, in which the high population density correlated well with the high density of pollution. It also didn’t help that the high level of tourism, excessive beach use and many marine activities lead to an extra level of waste to this already contaminated area.

In this area, polyethylene made up 65% of the coast’s ocean microplastics.


The study’s co-author, Professor Anna Sanchez-Vidal, stated: “Size and physical and chemical properties, as well as the conditions of the marine environment, determine the destination of microplastics in water.

“Density of the plastic material is a determining factor regarding big fragments. When talking of a microplastic, dynamics are more complex.

“Also, density of marine water varies due several factors – temperature, salinity, geographical position, depth – and it affects directly the buoyancy of the microplastics.

“Around 66% of the microplastics we found in marine aggregates – polyethylene, polypropylene and expanded polystyrene – are low density microplastics in the sea. “This hypothesis could explain the presence of low-density microplastics in big marine depths worldwide, and why the abundance of plastics floating in the surface of the ocean is lower than expected.”


Based on these results from the study, it’s clear the method of solving the microplastic problem plaguing the coasts won’t be some universal solution, but will have to be a case-by-case situation going by the study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. That said, it will be far from an easy task to fully remove or reduce the plastics within these waters.

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