United against plastic in the environment

Austrian pilot study online

© BMLFUW/N. Unger

Alpbach/Vienna, 31 August 2015 – On the occasion of a bilateral discussion in the context of the European Forum Alpbach, the Austrian Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Andrä Rupprechter, and Managing Director of the Environment Agency Austria, Georg Rebernig, handed over the pilot study on investigations of plastics in the Danube to Luxembourg's Minister for the Environment, Carole Dieschbourg, who currently presides over the EU Environment Council. "Plastics and microplastics do not belong in the environment. Plastic residues and microplastic particles, especially in oceans and waterways, are a problem that requires us to provide an active united Europe-wide response", emphasized Andrä Rupprechter. “This study is singular and a good basis for further steps on a European level.”

According to estimates, millions of tons of plastic enter into the oceans annually as a result of improper use and disposal as well as the utilisation and handling of products. More than 80 percent thereof are carried to sea by rivers. There is a need for action at European level when it comes to the identification of pollution sources, to harmonised measurement methods and to comparable data on a European scale. Investigations such as those carried out in the Danube by the Environment Agency Austria are pioneering efforts and as yet still the exception in Europe. "The number of investigations is increasing, but so far data has been difficult to compare. There is a growing awareness that we must act – and therefore it is all the more important to take coordinated EU-wide action to drastically reduce plastic in the environment", explains Georg Rebernig, Managing Director of the Environment Agency Austria.

 

In May 2015, for example, representatives of the industry, the network of European environment agencies, the EU Commission, and NGOs discussed concrete measures to prevent plastic pollution at a conference in Brussels on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BMLFUW). Above all, efficient mitigation and prevention measures must begin at the source. A number of manufacturers have announced that they will voluntarily stop using microplastics in their products by the end of 2015. The adoption of the "Plastic Bag Directive" in the spring of 2015 was an important step in Europe-wide control. In addition, the future circular economy package to be presented by the EU Commission at the end of 2015 is expected to deliver important impulses for the optimisation of the plastics lifecycle and of recycling. In September, the meeting of the European Network of the Heads of Environment Protection Agencies will focus on the prevention of plastic and on enhanced European cooperation.

Pilot study at the Danube

 

The Austrian study, carried out under the guidance of the Federal Environment Agency Vienna, together with BOKU and ViaDonau, on behalf of BMLFUW and the federal states of Lower Austria, Upper Austria, and Vienna, has set new standards. It is the first Europe-wide study to collect samples systematically across the width and depth of a river, thus, for the first time, enabling a realistic load estimate. This required the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences to develop an appropriate and repeatable methodology. The results show that up to approximately 40 tons of plastic are transported across the Austrian border through the Danube annually. The lion's share thereof originates from diffuse sources. The comprehensive Danube Study is now available for download.

 

The Environment Agency Austria in a nutshell

 

The Environment Agency, Austria's leading expert institution for environmental issues, is celebrating its 30-year anniversary in 2015. With more than 450 staff members from 55 scientific disciplines, it is one of the largest employers in the environment sector in Austria today. Throughout its 30-year history, the expertise contributed by the Agency has crucially shaped environmental protection and control in Austria and Europe. The Environment Agency Austria develops strategies and solutions for decision-makers in politics, administration and the economy to meet challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity or the energy transition. Internationally, the Environment Agency is actively involved in more than 200 networks and bodies and provides advice to the European Parliament and the EU Commission.

 

Further information:

Ingeborg Zechmann, Press Relations Officer of the Environment Agency Austria, 01/31304-5413