Tel Aviv is the Mediterranean city with the third-highest amount of plastic waste washing up on its shores, coming up behind the beaches of the Cilicia region of Turkey and Barcelona, according to a report on plastic waste in the Mediterranean published last week by the World Wildlife Fund.
The authors of this report did not examine all of the cities along the Mediterranean, choosing instead a select list, in which Tel Aviv placed third. A more extensive survey would probably have found cities with beaches that are no less polluted.
The amount of waste accumulated on one kilometer (0.6 miles) of beach per day in Tel Aviv is estimated at 21 kilograms (46 pounds). The Turkish beaches had 31 kilograms a day whereas Barcelona had 26. The country with the highest amount of plastic waste that is not disposed of properly is Egypt (42 percent of all waste), followed by Turkey (18.9 percent) and Italy (7.5 percent). It is estimated that these three countries account for two thirds of the pollution of the environment by plastic items. The most polluted estuaries are those of the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers in Turkey, the Po in northern Italy and the Nile in Egypt. The amount of waste increases three-fold during the tourist season, which peaks during the summer months.
Across the entire Mediterranean, the amount of plastic waste produced per year is close to 24 million tons. Almost 6 million tons do not get to regulated sites and about one tenth of this amount ends up on beaches and in the sea. Disposable plastic items make up the largest source of pollution. The amount reaching the sea is equivalent to 33,000 plastic bottles a day. The report notes that Italy is the largest per capita consumer of bottled water. Each person in Italy consumes 178 liters (47 gallons) of plastic-bottled water a year.
Plastic causes heavy damage to marine systems. Plastic particles get into the bodies of marine creatures and poison them. Many creatures suffocate after swallowing plastic articles, or find themselves caught up in plastic found in fishing equipment.
There are 247 billion plastic pieces floating on the sea’s surface. These are only estimates, since it’s hard to quantify exactly all the items cast out by such large numbers of facilities along all the beaches around the Mediterranean. Due to the prevailing currents in the Mediterranean, plastic waste doesn’t reach the center of the sea, as happens in the larger oceans, but is swept back towards the shoreline. The amount of waste on the bottom of the sea is nine times smaller but it is impossible to collect it.
The fishing, tourist and commercial shipping industries suffer damage totalling 600 million euros ($680 million) a year because of this waste. This includes damage to fishing equipment, with ships also being hit by plastic, with damage mainly to their engines. The tourism industry invests much money in cleanup, in order to keep tourists close to the shoreline.
In order to prevent the continued pollution which threatens the sea, the report determines that all countries in the region must adopt polices which ensure the collection of plastic in regulated treatment facilities. Priority must be given to recycling depots or to the production of energy from burning such waste. In tandem, usage should be discouraged, with disposable items prohibited and recyclable ones manufactured instead. Laws must be passed so that more plastic is collected, like plastic bottles are in Israel or in Western Europe. The goal should be zero plastic reaching the sea by 2030. It’s difficult to believe that countries in the region will even come close to this goal, due to heavy pressure on their infrastructure because of their rapid population growth and the increasing number of tourists in the area.
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