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Mona Maria Narra talks about the project "Circular Ocean-bound Plastic" (COP)

Mona Maria Narra is a research assistant in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Rostock in the field of waste and resource management, and is involved as a project partner in the Interreg project "Circular Ocean-bound Plastic". She studied environment and resource management at the University of Brandenburg and international management of forest eco-systems at the College of Applied Sciences in Eberswalde.
Ms. Narra, the "Circular Ocean-bound Plastic" project aims to remove plastic waste from the river system as near as possible to the source, and to identify possibilities for the reuse and recycling of marine plastic. What, from your point of view, is special about this project and what is the current status?
In many projects that are connected with marine litter, the main emphasis is on collecting it from the beaches. Because, however, around 80 % of the plastic in the Baltic Sea stems from land-based sources, mainly from urban areas, we start directly in the towns and cities in order to document the plastic waste as complete as possible.
We have now identified in the Rostock urban area the most important sources of pollution and will install in the spring "swimming dustbins", so-called PortBins. By regularly emptying the PortBins and analysing the contents, the main items of litter can be identified and conclusions can thus be drawn as to the origin of this litter. Through this precise analysis of the origins, also with regard to the timing and specific events – for example weekend parties or events at the port and heavy rain – particularly targeted measures can be devised to prevent the discharge of litter into the tributaries of the Baltic Sea.
The first result of the project is a mini report that gives an overview of the methods for collecting plastics. The emphasis here is on the methods used and the taking of decisions with regard to the collection of macroplastic in rivers.
To what extent does the project differ, for example, from the joint project "MicroCatch_Balt", which was carried out from 2017 - 2021 as part of the BMBF research focus "Plastics in the Environment – Sources, Sinks, Solutions", and dealt with the study of the microplastic sinks and sources of a typical catchment area through to the open Baltic Sea? Have you also referred to experiences and findings from this and other projects?
We naturally refer back to the results of the other projects. Whereas "MicroCatch_Balt" was, as you know, focused on microplastic - of which the discharges frequently stem from very diffuse sources - COP is related to macroplastic that often ends up in the river through a lack of care. We like to say that COP is a further development of the Interreg Central Baltic project "BLASTIC", in which methods were developed for documenting the plastic litter in the north-eastern Baltic Sea. Whereas here in the Nordic and Baltic countries, samples were taken from the rivers, we want to take this further to draft pollution countermeasures and identify possibilities for making use of the marine plastic. If the measures for reducing waste discharges are successful, then the possibilities for reusing and recycling marine plastic in the Baltic Sea will naturally become redundant – which is what we want to achieve – but these possibilities are usable all over the world, and marine plastic has much greater importance in other regions of the world.
Another topic of your project is the development of concrete measures for reducing entries of waste into the river systems and thus into the Baltic Sea. In the course of the Round Table on Marine Litter, the following recommendations have been published in 2022: “Options of action for municipalities to reduce volumes of plastic waste: possibilities for municipal regulation”. Does this recommendation for action play a role in your project? What concrete measures for reducing entries of waste into the river systems and thus into the Baltic Sea are, from your point of view, the most effective? Do you anticipate here any country-specific differences?
The recommendations for action naturally play a role for our project. We are in the process of carrying out comprehensive background research for the legal framework conditions in the southern bordering states of the Baltic Sea, but we are working on the assumption that conditions are similar in Poland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. We already know from previous studies that, in the Scandinavian countries, a large number of beverage cans end up in the rivers. Here, the introduction or increase of a deposit fee, or even a cross-border deposit system would probably lead to quick results in reducing this litter. Generally speaking, however, it is still too early in our project to be able to make a definitive statement on this aspect.
I would, however, like to positively stress the measures taken by the city of Rostock: by installing more waste bins (also in different sizes), by cleaning the city's port very promptly and by providing a municipal grill, it has already brought about a reduction in waste that enters the River Warnow in the area of the city’s port. Through the close cooperation between the collaborating cities, local authorities, ports and waste management companies, the project can directly create further impulses in the participating regions.
Mrs Narra, thank you very much for the interview!
(April 2024)

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