Beyond Plastic Med: the initiative against plastic in the Mediterranean


Every year, more than 200,000 tons of plastic are thrown into the Mediterranean , the most polluted sea in the world. Plastic is a major threat to the ocean, since it damages marine ecosystems, while contributing to climate change. That is why Surfrider Foundation Europe, the Tara Ocean Foundation, the Mava Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation joined forces to create the Beyond Plastic Med (BeMed) initiative in 2015. Drawing its strength from a large network of projects and organizations, BeMed aims to fight against plastic pollution in the Mediterranean. Surfrider Foundation Europe is a long-standing partner and supports BeMed through its scientific and legal expertise, as well as through its awareness-raising actions. Discover our interview with Lucile Courtial, Executive Secretary of Bemed, to learn more about this unique initiative.

BeMed was created by key actors involved in protecting the marine environment, including Surfrider Foundation Europe, in response to the increase of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean. Could you tell us more about BeMed's partners?

BeMed has benefited from a variety of support since it was launched in 2015. The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Tara Océan Foundation, Mava Foundation and IUCN have all contributed, for example, by providing scientific expertise, expanding the network, or developing projects. By being involved in 14 countries from the Mediterranean basin, BeMed also benefits from a large network of local civil society actors. Finally, we work with the private sector via the BeMed Business Club. BeMed is part of a collaborative approach, in which the different actors play complementary roles. In other words: we pool our efforts to be stronger in the face of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean.

You mentioned BeMed's Business Club, which brings together actors from the private sector who are ready to act in order to reduce plastic in the Mediterranean. How does BeMed envisage the role that companies can play in protecting the ocean?  

While companies, as CO2 and waste emitters, are far from perfect, more and more are willing to make real efforts. Working with the private sector is the best way to comprehensively reduce the problem at its very source. Large companies, especially multinationals, have a direct impact on the number of tons of plastics put on the market – be it positive or negative. Companies working with BeMed can get involved in pilot projects to test solutions in the field, or to work on where and how waste finally ends up. The next step? Exploring new projects with partners from the agri-food industry...while remaining very attentive against attempts at "greenwashing".

BeMed is present in the islands of the Mediterranean basin, which are particularly vulnerable to plastic pollution. How do you manage to mobilize local authorities and inhabitants in these regions?

It depends on the country and the context. In some places, local councils have already taken steps to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Other communities remain largely unaware of these issues. The Mediterranean has very different socio-economic contexts, so we have learned to adapt. A solution that works in one place may not work in another.  

Low-tech solutions in Corsica, community recycling in Lebanon, waste-collection dives in Malta... BeMed supports a wide range of projects. Which project has particularly marked you, if you had to choose only one? 

I particularly liked the recent project in the Iles d’Or off the Côte d’Azur, in partnership with the Small Islands Organization (SMILO). The project aims to produce a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics, using sugar cane. The idea was to work with local producers, and to test several other sustainable materials, in order to replicate the solution in other islands. This has directly involved local actors in the protection of their own territory, thus creating a positive dynamic. And the Mediterranean islands represent relevant laboratories for solutions against plastic, which can eventually be envision on the scale of an entire country.