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Behind the scenes

WasteFreeOceans ‘Golfinhos Alegres project with dedicated local partners to combat Guanabara Bay pollution in Rio.

20 September 2016

Marine Littering | Pollution of the oceans

Subject to millions of tons of waste being deposited each year, the world’s oceans are quickly becoming the largest global landfill. A worldwide issue, marine pollution, meanwhile confirmed as a G7 priority issue, presents serious environmental, economic, health and aesthetic concerns, affecting every country in the world.

There are a number of factors which inevitably aggravate the situation. It is merely a deficiency in the implementation of real extended producer responsibility and enforcement of polluters, combined with insufficient investments in high quality recycling infrastructure. Poor waste management in general, but also the lack of public awareness about the consequences of their actions contributes to an intensification of the problem. The only viable option is to combat the source of the problem, supported by stringent legis-lation, is to close the taps and add value to waste. Remediation actions close to shore at identified hot spot accumulation areas to collect litter will, however, also be needed in the years to come to prevent existing situations from getting worse.

In early 2015, a fact-finding mission was undertaken to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here, it’s simply not possible to overlook the problematic environmental situation in Guanabara Bay. It’s also here, where WasteFreeOceans presented various stakeholders the “Golfinhos Alegres” (“happy dolphins”) concept, a local circular economy project.

As a direct consequence of the several types of severe pollution in and around Guanabara Bay and the rivers flowing into the Bay, the orginal dolphin population is now almost extinct. Having lived in this area for centuries, the dolphin population has been decimised since 1980s according to the marine biologists who have tracked the dolphin population.

The ultimate goal of this project is to get the waters so clean by 2050 again that new generations of dolphins will return to the Bay

The proposal comprises some 150 local fishing vessels and their crews for a minimum project period of 2 years, which would help to clean up major parts of the floating debris. To this end, WFO trawls - specially designed to collect floating litter - would be utilised, together with other methods.

Ensuring the inflow of waste can be stopped, improved plastic waste collection systems and sorting plants in Brazil on land should be implemented. The usable waste seperated from the floating debris collection would be mixed with waste collected on land. This would add value to the existing waste streams, as well as bringing other benefits.

The well-sorted waste material would then be recycled by local (plastics) recyclers and turned into valuable products which could be used and sold on the local market, for example to improve on the sanitation situation in parts of the city and beyond.

Although we found great enthusiasm for this unique concept in terms of manpower, it has been impossible to find the necessary funding to move ahead with the project.

So for all watching the Rio Olympics and Rio Paralympics, please be aware of the very serious environmental situation in this area. It has not been possible to resolve this long-term issue prior to the start of the Olympics, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that urgent measures have to be taken – even when the cameras are no longer rolling. Join us and our local partners to make a difference!

Bernard Merkx, Co-founder of WFO

About WasteFreeOceans

WasteFree Oceans (WFO) is a public-private foundation aimed at mobilizing and uniting the fisheries sector, public authorities and the international plastics industry in combating the growing issue of floating litter on the coastlines, at the rivers and in the seas. What started as a pilot project in Europe to encourage fishermen and the plastics industry to work together on marine litter has now resulted in worldwide actions and the joining of forces in cleanup operations on marine litter. WFO’s aim is to work on solutions by creating horizontal multi stakeholder platforms, by raising awareness on the issue of marine litter, to work on educational campaigns and to continue WFO’s pan-European and international projects of reducing and reusing the plastics waste from our oceans and seas – closing the loops for a sustainable future.

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