ETC/ICM Report 2/2020: Marine Litter Watch (MLW) European Beach Litter Assessment 2013-2019

13 Nov 2020

Ahmet E. Kideys, Mustafa Aydın

Marine litter, plastic litter in particular, accumulate in freshwater environment and oceans as a result of linear economies and mismanagement of plastic waste. Marine litter can lead to harmful effects on marine ecosystems and human health. In addition to its environmental and health impacts, marine litter also creates socio-economic costs, mostly affecting coastal communities.

This report provides an overview and assessment of the EEA Marine Litter Watch (MLW) data on macro beach litter in European seas and freshwaters, which was collected at the European beaches by MLW communities between 2013-2019. EEA MLW is a citizen/community science initiative, which aims to strengthen Europe’s knowledge base on beach litter and thus provide support to European policy-making; mainly the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Single Use Plastics Directive.

MLW data reflected that sea-beach litter appeared to increase steadily over the years. However, this steady increase was mainly caused by the excessively high values from the Black Sea. When data from the Black Sea was excluded, litter pollution increased until 2017, with a steady decrease afterwards. Among the four EU regional seas, the Black Sea appeared to have the most littered beaches (652items/100 m) and the Baltic Sea the least polluted (78 items/100 m). The share of plastics was relatively low for the Baltic Sea beaches (about 61 %) compared to other seas (80–88 %). Excluding 2014 data, the share of plastics in total litter abundances for all seas was decreasing gradually over time. The median values from the lake and river beaches (35 and 67 items/100 m, respectively) were lower than that obtained from the sea beaches (379 items/100 m). Therefore, MLW data demonstrates that rivers serve as a pathway in particular for plastic litter transport from land to sea, making sea-beaches one of the sink areas for anthropogenic litter.

Prepared by:

Authors: Ahmet E. Kideys (METU) and Mustafa Aydın (EEA)
EEA lead author and project manager: Mustafa Aydın

Coordination: Christiane Katterfeld (UFZ)

Language Check: Shane Hume (CENIA)

Layout: F&U confirm, Leipzig

Key words: Marine litter, beach litter, beach litter trends, European seas, Marine Litter Watch, single use plastics, Top 10 litter items, beach litter monitoring, beach litter clean-up

Published by: ETC/ICM, November 2020, 26pp.