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News article9 December 2021

JRC models estimate the amount of transboundary litter in the Mediterranean Sea

Beach litter can wash up thousands of kilometres from its origin.
© © Alejandro -

A recent JRC article describes a new model to help identify the origin of coastal litter, and applies this to the Mediterranean basin. It finds that as much as 30% of litter washing up on Mediterranean shores could have originated in other countries.

The model can be used to help Member States in the context of implementing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) to avoid harm caused by marine litter. The aim is to remain below the MSFD maximum threshold of litter items on EU coastlines (20 items/100m coastline).

Fighting pollution at its source

It is difficult to know where beached litter originates from using traditional sampling methods. By simply collecting the items from the beaches it is impossible to determine where the litter comes from - it could have been discarded on that very same beach, at a nearby port or somewhere thousands of kilometres away. However, to help reduce litter, it is fundamental to understand where it comes from. Numerical models could help to assess the potential origin of litter in EU beaches and, hence, assist in the implementation of cost-effective reduction methods by fighting pollution at its source.

Modelling probable origins of coastal litter

The JRC article shows how JRC models can help determine the probable origin of any litter item found on Mediterranean coasts. By implementing numerical tools to track the movement of litter items in the sea and by integrating such models back in time, the authors were able to assess the probable origin of coastal litter throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

This knowledge is very important to help Member States to comply with the recently adopted threshold on beach litter in the European Union and to reduce pollution at its source, in line with the Zero Pollution ambition, the EU Plastics Strategy and the overarching European Green Deal.

Mediterranean ‘melting pot’

The analysis demonstrates that litter in the Mediterranean Sea can, indeed, travel very large distances - up to thousands of kilometres - before arriving at a beach. This explains why up to 30% of beach litter in the Mediterranean originated from a different country to where it is finally found (i.e. could be considered ‘transboundary’). The analysis therefore indicates that the Mediterranean basin is a ‘melting pot’ where all countries have a common responsibility to fight against this pervasive form of pollution.

Further information

Related Content

Model based estimate of transboundary litter pollution on Mediterranean coasts


Publication date
9 December 2021