It’s not just the oceans. Plastics are flooding the world-renowned reserve for large herbivores, too

2022 - 04 - 25

The reserve for large herbivores in the former Milovice military training area near Prague has been facing increasing amounts of plastic pollution in the past two years. Plastic bags, packets and single-use plastic packaging are regularly carried there by wind from a municipal waste dump located less than one kilometre away.

Although the dump has existed at this site since the 1990s, significant problems with plastic pollution of the nearby reserve have only started occurring in the last two years. “This is associated with the fact that the dump has grown higher than the surrounding forest that had protected it from wind. The top of the dump is now exposed to gusts of wind and light plastics fly miles away from there,” said Dalibor Dostal, director of the European Wildlife conservation organisation.

The overwhelming majority of the plastics picked up at the reserve is made up of single-use plastic and HDPE polyethylene bags, plastic films used for packing electronics, and polystyrene. Repeated pollution of the reserve with single-use plastics shows that the current sorting and recycling system does not work well. “We pick up the plastics carried there by wind from the dump and always take them into a yellow container. Since they are unsuitable for further processing, they are transported to the dump. From there the wind blows them away back into the reserve, where we pick them up and throw them into yellow containers… I am pretty sure that this endless cycle of plastics does not match the idea of a circular economy as it was originally intended,” added Dalibor Dostal.

The systematic pollution of the reserve with plastics shows that the European Union has to take markedly more vigorous steps to limit single-use plastics. Plastic bags have already been banned by dozens of countries worldwide, including many developing countries. “Both the EU as a whole and a large majority of its member states are considerably delayed in this respect,” stated Dalibor Dostal.

There is a total ban on plastic bags in European countries such as Italy and France, while in other parts of the world we see the same in China, India, Morocco and Kenya. A partial ban is in force in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Brazil. In a number of EU countries, including the Czech Republic, only a ban on the free provision of plastic bags was introduced in 2018. “This measure is totally insufficient, though. Not only littering of the Milovice reserve for large herbivores but also the nearly omnipresent plastic bags on the fields, in road ditches and at other places show that the regulations for this type of pollution in the Czech Republic are very weak,” concluded Miloslav Jirku of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Plastics are most often discussed in connection with the pollution of oceans as well as rivers in certain parts of the world. In particular, in Asia as well as, for example, in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last year, the UN also warned against the disastrous contamination of the soil, which contains even more plastics than in the seas. In addition to plastic waste that kills sea animals, birds and other organisms, the gradual decomposition of these materials into so-called microplastics poses a risk as well. Scientists have found them not only in water, air and soil, on the highest mountain of the world and in the deepest sea trench, but also in human blood and lungs. According to experts, this poses a potential danger to human health.

The reserve for large ungulates in Milovice, also called the European Serengeti, is a European nature conservation project which has become globally renowned in recent years. Media on five continents, including prestigious titles such as the New York Times and Washington Post, have repeatedly reported on it.

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