The 10th European Union Strategy Forum for the Baltic Sea Region is behind us. The international forum, attended by almost 800 people from all over Europe, took place on 12-13 June 2019 in Gdańsk. It was attended by entrepreneurs, representatives of non-governmental organisations and EU bodies, local government officials, as well as young people and scientists.
They debated the future of the Baltic Sea Region, with ecology and the closed-loop economy as their main topics. What were the main conclusions of the two-day discussion panels?
Education is not enough. Will there be an additional burden of “ecological” taxes?
The whole of Europe, not only the Baltic region, is facing several threats, which we must not underestimate.
These are rapid technological changes, loss of confidence in democratic institutions, demographic changes, migration of people and climate crises.
– A quick and decisive change is needed,” said Mieczysław Struk, Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, at the end of the forum.
– We cannot only talk, but also implement changes. We need a much more ecological approach to the economy and consumer habits, but also systemic legal and economic changes leading to greater care for the environment – stressed Struk.
During the debates, there were many slogans saying that education in the field of ecology and environmental protection is insufficient.
– Do we have time for education? – asked during the session on plastic pollution Eugenij Lobanow from Coalition Clean Baltic. – After all, we are being flooded by a sea of plastic. We need direct action, not just education. We do not have time to wait for education to produce results. Today, we should act in two ways. Legal conditions are important, because thanks to them, immediate effects will appear. The economic policy of the countries should change – explained Lobanow. In his opinion, plastic should be much more expensive in order to stop being a cheaper substitute for glass or other, more ecological materials. – Disposable plastic should become a luxury good,” said Lobanow.
He also stressed that it is not always necessary to explain to people what a great threat plastic poses to the planet. Sometimes a top-down ban is enough. As is the case with the EU-wide ban on the use of plastic straws for beverages.
Plastics in humans
One of the panels was called “Close plastic tap. Plastic does not belog to enviromnent”. “Turn off the plastic tap. Plastic is not part of the environment”). Seven specialists debated the presence of plastic in every person’s life, which we often don’t realize.
The debate was opened with a lecture by Prof. Waldemar Wardencki from the Gdańsk University of Technology, who explained what micro-plastics is. – These are small particles of plastic, not exceeding 5 mm in size,” explained Wardencki. – They are created as a result of the disintegration of plastic objects into smaller parts and go to the seas. Then they are eaten by fish and people eat fish. They also get into the gastrointestinal tract from various cosmetics, such as peelings and masks. Research has shown that there are about 20 microplastic particles in 10 grams of human stool,” Wardencki said. The scientist also calculated how much time plastic decomposes (in convenient conditions). A PET bottle takes 100 to 1000 years, a plastic bag about 400 years, and a candy or diaper paper about 450 years.
Still another alarming data on plastic contamination was provided by Piotr Barczak from the European Enviromental Bureau.
– If we keep the use of plastic at the current level, its amount will quadruple in 2050 – said Barczak. – In the seas and ratings, the majority of plastics are disposable objects. And a ban on straws is the tip of the iceberg. Recycling does not work as it should. Only one in 2,000 plastic bags is recycled,” Barczak said.
It is also worth knowing that 70% of the rubbish found on Baltic beaches is made of plastic. A recipe for the problem of flooding the environment with a mountain of plastic may be the so-called plastic prevention. The idea is to show societies how to replace plastic with other plastics and introduce changes in everyday life that will eliminate plastic objects.
What can you do?
What should we do to continue the directions set out at the 10th European Union Strategy Forum for the Baltic Sea Region? It is worthwhile to think about our everyday behaviour. Start with yourself, because as the panellists often stressed, small, local changes have a global impact. It is necessary to eliminate plastics wherever possible. Using reusable cups and dishes. There are already cafes where you can come with your own cup (by the way, you can often get a discount on coffee or tea). Do not buy food in plastic bags, but use your own. In Latvia there is already a chain of big shops where you can buy everything by weight – in your own box or material bag. This is a very ecological trend.
What more? Let’s not waste food. Research has shown that Poles waste food on power. One person throws away as much as 140 kg of food a year – that’s almost the biggest in the whole EU! Let us also separate waste, buy locally and give up meat and fish, which are produced using huge amounts of water. We should also buy durable goods and repair broken goods – instead of throwing them away and buying new ones.
What will be the future of the Baltic region?
The participants of the 10th Forum were able to comment on the role of the Baltic region in a special survey. More than half of them believe that it is the Baltic States that can set trends and become the precursors of good, ecological changes in the whole Europe. Approximately 40% of people are of the same opinion, but they point out that a lot of work and far-reaching changes are needed. Only a few percent of participants do not see such an opportunity for the Baltic to become an example for others, how to protect natural resources and fight against pollution.
– We must continue our work, but with greater participation of political decision-makers, representatives of business and the world of science – explains Mieczysław Struk. – We need the support of global players and the promotion of their initiatives. I propose creating a Baltic platform for a closed-circuit economy as a tool for public-private cooperation. Let us remember that the future begins now,’ Struk reminds us.
The 10th European Union Strategy Forum for the Baltic Sea Region was organised by the Marshal’s Office of Pomorskie Voivodeship in partnership with Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission. This year the forum was held under the slogan “Reduce. Reuse. Rethink”.
What is the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region?
The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (SUERMB) was launched in 2009. It is the first EU macro-regional strategy and complements national territorial governance policies. It covers eight EU countries around the Baltic Sea (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Poland) and allows cooperation with non-EU countries (especially Norway, Iceland, Russia and Belarus). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland plays the role of the National Coordinator for SUERMB.
The entities working for the SUERMB implementation, thanks to an innovative approach to regional cooperation and through specific projects, jointly solve the problems of the Baltic Sea region. The essence of SUERMB is to implement transnational flagship projects to protect the ecosystem and improve the condition of the Baltic Sea waters, create favourable conditions for increasing prosperity and developing regional infrastructure (e.g. combating environmental pollution, developing modern solutions for maritime navigation). This activity reflects the three main objectives of SUERMB: Save the Sea, Connect the Region, Increase Prosperity. The cooperation takes place on many levels: governmental, regional and local and with the participation of the scientific community, research centres, non-governmental organizations, institutions managing operational programmes, as well as the private sector.
Rel (Marshal’s Office of Pomorskie Voivodeship)