Every year, millions of tonnes of waste end up in oceans and water bodies around the world, with a direct and devastating effect on wildlife. Marine pollution starts on land and is one of the main reasons for the degradation of biodiversity.
This is why every year the European Union (EU) organises #EUBeachCleanup, a global awareness campaign to boost grassroots activism, through concrete actions to protect the oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.
The 2021 edition of #EUBeachCleanup takes place under the motto “Together to Protect Marine Life” in line with the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The Global Alliance between the EU and the UN is reaffirmed once again through bringing together their campaigns #EUBeachCleanup and «Clean Seas», both aiming to combat the global ocean pollution crisis.
This year, the EU Delegation to Mexico organised, with the support of the Dutch Embassy and in cooperation with the government of Mexico City, town hall of Xochimilco and the United Nations Environment Programme Office (UNEP) in Mexico, a clean-up activity on the Lake of Xochimilco in Mexico City. Xochimilco is one of the five lakes in the basin of Mexico Valley. As well as being a historical, cultural and tourist benchmark in Mexico, it is also home to the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), a species threatened by extinction.
The Ambassador of the European Union and the staff of the EU Delegation were joined by officials from different departments of the Government of Mexico City and the town hall of Xochimilco, the ambassadors of Belgium and Italy, as well as representatives of the embassies of Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, the US Embassy and the UNEP. In compliance with all sanitary measures, more than 50 participants joined forces in collecting waste, particularly plastic waste, in a so-called chinampa (T/N: a man-made island for growing crops) on the Xochimilco lake. The activity, which resulted in filling up 92 big trash bags with almost one tonne of plastics and other waste, was organised with the logistical assistance of Ríos Limpios, a local NGO.
In addition to helping to combat pollution in this emblematic area and enjoy the wonderful landscapes, participants had the opportunity to learn about the axolotl, a species capable of regenerating amputated limbs and damaged organs and tissues. Despite its extraordinary capacities, the axolotl, which is only found in Xochimilco waters, is at high risk due to pollution of its surroundings. Several actions are being taken to protect it, but the most effective measure would be to keep the water in its habitat clean.
During the event, the Ambassador of the European Union to Mexico, Mr. Gautier Mignot, said: “We are very happy to have been able to organise a face-to-face activity this year as part of the European Union campaign #EUBeachCleanup and to contribute, together with our Mexican, European, American and international colleagues, to the preservation of the Xochimilco lake and its great biodiversity, in particular the axolotl. This activity undoubtedly represents a ‘drop in the ocean’, but encourages us to continue to promote the protection of rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, thus generating a wave of change.”
Dr. Diana Alarcón González, General Coordinator of International Affairs of the Government of Mexico City, stressed the importance of such campaigns to stimulate long-term behavioural change and commented that such initiatives were in harmony with the city’s priorities. In this regard, she stressed that Mexico City had proposed to preserve, restore and expand green infrastructure in order to guarantee the right to enjoy a healthy environment for the inhabitants of this great capital. She also noted that the city is seeking to reduce the generation of waste with legislation to eliminate the use of single-use plastics and a recycling and reuse programme leading to a zero-waste society.
Mexico City is committed to combating climate change and has adopted a number of policies aimed at reducing GHG emissions, such as the recovery and extension of the electricity transmission network, boosting the production and use of clean energy such as solar energy. Similarly, actions have been undertaken for carbon capture such as the sowing of 23 million plants and trees in the urban area and in nature protected areas. Mexico City recognises the leadership and collaboration of the representations of EU member countries, as well as the EU’s own delegation in Mexico.
From her side, the Mtra. Dolres Barrientos Alemán, Representative to Mexico of the United Nations Environment Programme, welcomed this joint initiative between the European Union and the United Nations and mentioned: “More than 11 million tonnes of plastic are discharged into our seas and oceans each year; if the current rate of production and consumption remain unchanged, there could be more plastic than fish by 2050 and 90 % of animals would have ingested plastic. Against this background, activities such as today are very important as they contribute to the involvement and consciousness of the public, as well as to the rescue and restoration of aquatic ecosystems such as the Lake of Xochimilco, which hosts a great natural wealth, being the home of species and providing a livelihood for a significant number of people. In this regard, we invite all people to join this type of movement for clean lakes.”
The #EUBeachCleanup campaign, which has been organised since 2017, strongly calls for ambitious measures to protect the oceans internationally. What started as a symbolic gesture in some countries, with a few volunteers, has become a global movement, involving thousands of people and collecting tonnes of waste on beaches, rivers and lakes around the world, reaching more than eighty countries in the 2019 edition. In 2020, measures taken at global level to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic put physical clean-ups on hold in most countries. However, this situation provided an opportunity to highlight the importance of acting in our daily lives, from home. Since then, the campaign has increased awareness of the fact that the sea starts at the door of our homes and encourages citizens to demonstrate their commitment also through their social media, serving as an example for others.
In 2021, the EU joins forces with ActNow, the UN campaign for individual action against climate change and sustainability. Earlier this year, #EUBeachCleanup was recognised by the United Nations as a good practice of the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the same time, since 2017, UNEP launched the global Clean Seas campaign, which seeks to combat the global marine pollution crisis in the oceans. It is a global movement geared to governments, industry and consumers to urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic products that pollute the world’s oceans, damage marine life and threaten human health. It is important to note that “Clean Seas” is linked to the “Global Partnership on Marine Litter”. In Mexico, 30 subnational and municipal governments have joined the campaign, as well as various civil society organisations, industry and academia.
Plastics account for 80 % of marine litter worldwide (IUCN 2018). At the legislative level, the European Union is at the forefront of this battle. Within its own territory, the EU has adopted legislation that will reduce single-use plastics. About 84 % of beach litter in the EU is made up of plastic and about 50 % is single-use plastic items. Thanks to the EU Directive on this matter, some of the most frequently found single-use plastic items on EU beaches can no longer be placed on the EU market as of July 2021.