IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

10/13/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/13/2021 08:59

NUTEC Plastics: Roundtable for Europe, Central Asia Focuses on Nuclear Solutions to Plastic Pollution

From food packaging and clothing to transport, health care and energy, plastic is an integral part of our everyday lives. Plastic's utility and ubiquity, however, comes at a price. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing global problems from an environmental point of view, said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, at a discussion last week with partners from Europe and Central Asia.

"On the basis of our experience and work that has already been carried out and through the technical expertise we have, it's clear that nuclear techniques and applications have a lot to contribute," to solving the problem of plastic pollution, he said at the event. "The added value of nuclear techniques is that they allow us to work in a unique, precise and effective way on two levels: first on the detection and identification of plastics, microplastics and nanoplastics in the environment and then through irradiation on the other end of the circular economy chain by allowing us to recycle plastic in an environmentally friendlier way."

Around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated every year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, and in Europe, less than 30 per cent of this waste is collected or recycled. Without proper waste monitoring and management, plastics end up in the environment, entering ecosystems and threatening the health of wildlife, the oceans and people.

Virginijus Sinkevicius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, emphasized the importance of monitoring plastic pollution. "Better monitoring will help us understand origins and pathways, the scale of the problem and the impact on nature," he said, in a recorded message. "What we can't measure, we can't manage. Without harmonized monitoring, we won't have efficient measures to prevent and mitigate plastic pollution."

At the meeting, the fourth in a series of regional roundtables organized by the IAEA, the Agency presented NUclear TEChnology for Controlling Plastic Pollution (NUTEC Plastics), which helps countries integrate nuclear techniques into their strategies to address plastic pollution. The roundtable brought together over 300 participants from 56 countries.

"The World Bank Group is supporting governments and private sector to improve waste management and promote circular economy solutions. Innovations, such as the one promoted by the IAEA, play a very important role to addressing the issue of marine plastic pollution," said Berengere Prince, Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist at the World Bank. Prince and Sinkevicius were among high-level panellists, including ministers from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Portugal and deputy ministers from Estonia and Greece, as well as leaders from the private and non-profit sectors, who convened online to share their policies and experiences in addressing the global challenge of plastic pollution and to learn about and discuss the place of nuclear technology. Portugal will co-host the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon next year.

From the shipping industry perspective, Eli Vassenden, Vice President of Grieg Star in Bergen, Norway, shared that "the shoreside creates the main risk for plastic ending back into the sea. We must work to reduce risk and focus on collecting what is already in the sea through treaties and common efforts."