Nationwide campaign highlights problem of street drain pollution

One of the painted street drain surrounds, which reads
One of the painted street drain surrounds, which reads "The sea starts here" in Estonian and Russian. Source: Tallinn City Government

Starting Wednesday (August 25) a campaign called "The Sea Starts Here" aims to improve the state of the Baltic Sea by curbing pollution through street rainwater drains by painting drain hatches. Readers may have spotted the eye-catching yellow slogans on the streets of the capital already, and the campaign is to hit other towns and cities too.

The drain hatches have been brightly painted with the words "The Sea Starts Here ("Meri algab siit") and has launched in Tallinn and will be rolled out across 15 towns and cities.

Since the drains flow ultimately into the Baltic, it is hoped that cutting down on pollution, particularly of cigarette butts, which are not bio-degradable, will be achieved.

Cigarette butt pollution is the main source of plastic waste pollution in the Baltic Sea. Tallinn City Government said almost a billion cigarette ends are discarded and fall into the rainwater drainage system every year in Estonia. Either a lack of a rainwater collection chamber or the rapid breakdown of the cigarette butts into smaller parts causes the pollutants to reach the sea.

Rainwater, unlike household drainage, does not pass through water disposal treatment plants, but reaches the nearest body of water untreated instead.

The City of Tallinn - a candidate for the European Green Capital 2022 - says the manhole covers are marked by individual city districts. In cooperation with the Port of Tallinn, nearly 30 rainwater hatches in the harbor area will also be marked in the same yellow paint. The signs will also appear at Tallinn Airport.

Both these partners are also participating in the campaign "A cigarette butt's place is in the trash", launched by Tallinn last week, which also draws attention to the problem of garbage in the Baltic Sea in general.

As a part of the campaign, rainwater manhole covers will be marked in different parts of Estonia with the slogan "The sea starts here". In addition, asphalt is being marked with a visual aimed at prohibiting the dumping of garbage via the drainage hatch, and by making a reference to local sea life, including fish and seals.

The exact wording is up to the local authority and depends also on what the nearest major body of water is - in addition to the Baltic, Estonia's eastern border is dominated by Lake Peipus - Peipsi Järv, and major rivers include the Suur and Väike Emajõgi rivers, the Narva and the Pärnu rivers.

Cigarette butts are also one of the largest polluters according to global studies, meaning prevention and a change in people's behavior are essential. A similar campaign has been practiced in several other European countries, which has led to a significant increase in public awareness and a reduction in pollution, Tallinn City Government says.

The "Sea starts here" campaign is supported by the Environmental Investment Center. More information is here.

Read more about applying for European Green Capital 2022 here.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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