The densely populated coastline, fisheries, extensive tourism and maritime traffic, including the riverine inputs, have contributed to a continuous increase in marine litter over past decades (e.g. Santos, Friedrich and Barretto; Galgani et al. 2014; Rech et al. 2014; Unger and Harrison 2016). According to the International Coastal Cleanup Report (Ocean Conservancy 2017), cigarette butts are the most common item found at sea (see also Munari et al. 2016), but plastics, especially fragmented consumer products, make up by far the biggest type of marine litter (UNEP, 2019).
With the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean (the Plan), the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) was the first Regional Seas Programme and Convention to develop legally binding measures to prevent and reduce the adverse effects of marine litter on marine and coastal environments. Adopted in 2013, the entry into force of the Plan coincided with the update of national action plans of the Mediterranean countries to combat pollution from land-based sources and activities.
The Plan involves some key principles on pollution control and prevention, including the integration of marine litter management into solid waste management and the reduction of litter through a focus on promoting sustainable consumption and production practices. A key component of the Plan is collaboration with the private sector to reduce plastic consumption.
The Plan provides a legally binding set of actions and timelines to reduce marine litter in the Mediterranean. The targets set for 2017 have been largely achieved, as many were conditional with “explore and implement to the extent possible”. However, many of the aims have passed the explore stage to implementation.
Some progress has been made in the use of recycled plastic and in reducing the use of single-use plastic bags. Some Mediterranean countries such as France and Morocco have a total ban on plastic bags. Other countries such as Croatia, Malta and Israel and some municipalities and districts of Spain and Greece have introduced a tax on single-use plastic bags. Tunisia has banned non-biodegradable plastic bags in large chain supermarkets (Legambiente ONLUS 2017).
On the other hand, the fishing sector has lagged in implementing litter reduction strategies. Although guidelines for the litter scheme have been developed, and the majority of Mediterranean fishermen have indicated a willingness to participate, country surveys indicate that vessels do not have bins or bags on board to store litter items. Fishermen continue to discard unwanted fishing gear into the sea. In this regard, a wide range of technologies for marking ownership of fishing gear are available. In fact, Moroccan and EU fisheries laws provide for the marking of both the vessel and the fishing gear carried on board, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations adopted the Guidelines on Marking Fishing Gear in 2018 (UNEP, 2019).