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Pilot action for the removal of marine plastics and litter


The overall goal of this topic is the demonstration of approaches or technologies to improve marine spatial planning and conservation (or even restoration) of coastal ecosystems. More specifically, this topic is for the demonstration of technologies to clean the seafloor and the surface of nearshore waters, and possibly the water column, from historically accumulated plastics and micro-plastics as well as from other accumulated marine litter and the assessment of effectiveness and impact. Accompanying research will have to address impacts on coastal ecosystems’ food chains, biodiversity and functioning, fisheries, aquaculture, Marine Protected Areas, wild life and local economies (all of these) 6, 12, 18 and 24 months after the (start of the) cleaning. At the end of the project, the consortium is expected to identify a way forward and lay the foundations for upscaling with a view to a future potentially automated removal of historically accumulated marine litter (legacy), in particular at hot-spots of accumulated marine litter.

The inclusion of actions to reduce other pollutants and effects of stressors is an advantage.

Projects shall demonstrate the effectiveness of an (or several) automatic or remotely controlled wireless device(s) capable of collecting plastics and other marine litter of reasonable size (larger micro-litter and macro-litter up to a meter or so). The proposed solution must be able to work at the sea surface and on the seafloor/beach. The demonstration has to be for longer periods of time (several months on one site; several sites at the same time are acceptable). The marine litter must be sorted and reused (project must include demonstration of feeding of litter into reuse/recycling chains) in line with the circular economy and the plastics strategy[[]] .

The environmental impact, notably on biota, has to be minimized and assessed.

The project must include demonstrations in different sites, including beaches, harbours and shallow seafloor.

This topic is in support of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. Selected projects under this topic as well as projects selected under other topics in H2020 supporting the Plastics Strategy are strongly encouraged to participate in joint activities as appropriate. These joint activities could take the form of clustering of projects, participation in workshops, common exploitation and dissemination etc. The projects should describe how they will be complementary with already existing relevant national activities or other multilateral activities funded by the EU or funded jointly by several Member States. The proposals are expected to demonstrate support to common coordination and dissemination activities. Therefore, the proposals should foresee a dedicated work package for this purpose and earmark appropriate resources. Further details of these coordination activities will be defined during the grant preparation phase with the Commission.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 6 million would allow this challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Marine litter is high on the scientific and political agendas and of major concern for European citizens. More than 80 percent of marine litter is plastic. It is estimated that by 2050, more plastic could be in the ocean than fish. It can be found on beaches (mostly produced locally), on the ocean surface, in animals and on the seafloor. Microplastics can get into the food chain, together with the integrated and adsorbed toxins. It is estimated that each year 5 to 13 million tonnes plastics reach the seas and oceans (worldwide), becoming eventually the main source of microplastics. In addition to possible health risks, the damage to marine ecosystems and the blue economy (tourism and other maritime sectors) due to plastic litter are enormous.

Therefore, urgent action is needed both for the prevention and for the removal of existing marine litter, notably plastics and microplastics. For this topic, a demonstration of the removal of marine litter and research is being proposed, highlighting how the environment is impacted by the removal, and the corresponding impacts in terms of ecosystem and economic recovery.

Contributing to the ongoing implementation of EU Policies such as the EU Bioeconomy Strategy, the Circular Economy Strategy, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, the European Integrated Maritime Policy, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, activities will:

In the short-term:

  • Support the implementation of the UN Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and the needs of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
  • Achieve at least TRL 6.
  • Achieve a removal of 90% of macro-plastic litter and a substantial fraction of micro-litter in the demonstration areas reducing the clean-up cost to the local blue economy.
  • Increase availability of efficient and environmentally sustainable technologies to remove existing marine litter.
  • Contribute to awareness rising of citizens about the importance of prevention to avoid environmental damage and high costs (for the community and the tax payer instead of the polluter).
  • Contribute to the sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts (UN SDG 14).

In the medium-term:

  • Obtain no more damage from marine litter to the local blue-economy and marine ecosystems services.
  • Achieve 80% reduction of micro-plastics in shellfish in treated areas (or other locally important small marine animals).
  • Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health (UN SDG 14).
  • Ensure that collected marine plastics are reused or reconverted in a way that is in line with the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.
  • Shorten the time span between research and innovation and foster economic value in the blue economy.
  • Improve the professional skills and competences of those working and being trained to work within the blue economy and in the context of open data sharing.
  • Increase data sharing and increase integration of data.
  • Contribute to determining the distribution and fate of marine litter and microplastics.

In the long-term:

  • Achieve 80% reduction of micro-plastics and plastics in non-migratory birds species in the areas where cleaning technologies are being used.
  • Achieve substantial reduction of micro-plastics originating from macro-plastics locally.