Every year, 8 million tons of waste suffocate beaches and sea beds, says Italy's environment league, Legambiente. Its Beach Litter report issued this week revealed that more than 80 percent of the waste found on 93 beaches was plastic.
A mass cleanup is planned next weekend, involving thousands of volunteers on 250 beaches and coastal sites. Legambiente, which organized the effort, also urged the government to approve the Salvamare (Save Our Seas) bill that would allow fishermen to bring to shore any plastic that ends up in their nets, without having to pay for disposal costs.
Greenpeace Italy sounded its alarm this week when a young sperm whale washed ashore on a Sicilian beach with plastic in its stomach. Giorgia Monti, campaign manager for Greenpeace, said five sperm whales had beached in the last five months in Italy. She could not confirm whether plastic was the cause of the death of the last whale found, but said it was very likely.
"The sea is sending us a cry of alarm, a desperate SOS," Monti said.
Later this month, Greenpeace is launching an effort to monitor plastic pollution levels at sea, with a focus on the west coast of Italy.
To stem the tide of plastic waste, initiatives have been spearheaded across Italy. Among new technology to combat pollution in many Italian ports are filters called sea-bins, which are active 24 hours and able to capture more than 1.5 kilograms of plastic daily.
While campaigners say much more needs to be done, some tourist resorts have banned the use of non-recyclable plastic and fine violators.