Updating an old principle to reduce pollution at sea
The Tara Ocean Foundation, with scientists from the CNRS, IFREMER and Sorbonne Universities, has been working for more than ten years on the problem of plastics at sea. The work of researchers, like François Galgani in the Mediterranean, shows that the seabed is covered with plastic bottles. Other research has revealed that microplastics, especially from packaging, are today scattered all over the ocean. It is true off Marseille as in the sparsely populated Arctic Ocean!
The impact of this plastic pollution on marine biodiversity has also been proven. To preserve our environment and the ocean in particular, we must not hesitate to reduce the use of disposable plastics and be even more ambitious for our system of collection and recycling of packaging.
Plastic recycling in France leaves much to be desired. In fact, France ranks amongst the worst in Europe, with only 22% of plastics being recycled. Even in the case of PET bottles, which are the best treated plastic waste in our country, the numbers are deplorable. Just over half is recycled and at least 140,000,000 bottles end up in the wild each year. How can we be satisfied with this ecological and economic disaster? The European and French authorities seem to have realized the urgency to act. Collection and recycling targets have been set and we will have to reach 90% recycling of PET bottles by 2029. But recycling has yet to become a daily habit for the French people.
Scientists on board Tara filter samples of water, microorganisms and microplastics collected at the surface © Samuel Bollendorff / Tara Ocean Foundation
This is the role of the Bill Against Food Waste and For the Circular Economy which in early September began its revision process in the Senate. This law, presented for the first time in the spring of 2019 by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, proposes a system of deposit, recycling and reuse of PET bottles in particular. At the end of August, when political decision makers resumed their meetings, the first voices were raised on the side of recyclers and some representatives of communes, and also from the recycling union, whose interests are at stake. The law presented last week to the Senate by Secretary of State Brune Poirson was highly controversial and is currently under discussion in the Senate for a final proofreading starting on September 24th.
What does the text say? It lays the foundation for a mandatory deposit system for beverage packaging: glass and plastic bottles (PET), cans and cartons for liquids. This proposal is highly criticized by some opponents and is currently being amended to reduce its scope.
But if we look at the best performing countries on a European scale, the deposit system is the only credible alternative for France to catch up in the field of bottle collection and recycling. According to the report commissioned by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and presented by Jacques Vernier on September 11th, “no country has managed to obtain a 90% collection, all materials combined, without a deposit system. Recycling rates of the different countries that set up a deposit system vary from 79 to 98%, all materials combined”. The work of Mr. Vernier shows that with a reasonably fixed price of 15 cents per bottle, citizens could definitely see an advantage in separating their bottles and make the effort to bring them back to a dedicated collection point.
Macro-plastics collected on the beach of Saint-Malo © Marilou Bourdreux / Tara Ocean Foundation
As for the ocean, increasingly inundated by plastics of all kinds, it is more than urgent to go beyond the stage of promises towards a set of practical and pragmatic solutions anchored in the socio-economic and environmental reality of our country. The bottle deposit is one of the cornerstones, as is the reduction of unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging. Less “seductive” than the illusory belief that we can “clean the oceans”, these relevant and proven measures are within our reach. Let’s move forward to a world without plastic in the oceans and seize the unique opportunity that this legislation provides. Plastics at sea: the solutions are on land!
The signatory scientists:
- Jean-François Ghiglione, Directeur de recherche CNRS, Observatoire Océanologique Banyuls
- Maria Luiza Pedrotti, Chercheur CNRS en Océanographie et biologie marine, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Lars Stemman, Professeur en océanographie, Observatoire Océanologie Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Christian Sardet, DR CNRS émérite
- Yvon Le Maho, Directeur de Recherche Emérite. Membre de l’Académie des Sciences, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert CURIEN – CNRS
- Eric Röttinger, Directeur de Recherche CNRS, Sciences biologiques
- Alice Pierret, Assistante ingénieure, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Sonia Lotito, Technicienne en biologie du développement, CNRS, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Quentin Branchereau, Médiateur scientifique en océanographie
- Thomas Guttierez, Etudiant modélisation écologie
- Frédéric Gazeau, Chercheur CNRS, biologie marine
- Fabien Lombard, Maitre de conférences, membre de l’IUF/ étude du plancton, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Vincent Picco, Docteur en biologie cellulaire, cancérologie, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Adrien Poquet, PhD student in coral biology
- Juliette Maury, ingénieure d’étude, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Stéphanie Barnay-Verdier, Maitre de Conférences/ Biologie cellulaire et Biologie Marine, University Pierre et Marie Curie
- Anne-Sophie Benoiston, Muséum d’Histoire naturelle
- Marianne Roca, thésarde en biologie cellulaire, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- S. GEAY, chargée de mission
- Sakina-Dorothée Ayata, Maître de conférences en Ecologie Marine, Sorbonne Université
- Edouard Leymarie, Ingénieur de Recherche
- François Seneca, Chargé de recherche, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Raphaëlle Sauzede
- Nathalie Hilmi, Docteur en sciences économiques, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Marine Fourrier, Doctorante en océanographie
- Sophie Peron, étudiante en thèse / biologie du développement
- Olivier Boebion, Ingénieur d’étude CNRS / informatique et réseau
- Laurent Formery, Docteur en biologie
- Séverine Martini, biologiste marin
- Eric Elia, Aide aux chercheurs, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Jean-Pierre Gattuso, Directeur de recherche au CNRS, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
- Cécile Gastaldi, ingénieur de recherche en Biologie Médicale, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Duygu Sevilgen, Dr., Chercheuse au CSM, Biologiste Marin
- Eric Tambutté, Chercheur en biologie marine, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Stéphanie Reynaud, Docteur Biologie des coraux, Centre scientifique de Monaco
- Paola Furla, Professeur des Universités en Biologie Marine, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis
- Valérie Barbe, chercheure en génétique
- Jean de Vaugelas, docteur en Biologie et Ecologie Marine, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis
- Jean Mascel, Docteur CNRS émérite, Observatoire Océanologique Villefranche-sur-Mer
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