Baltic Sea themes in the 2021 Municipal Elections

Even though the wastewater loads from our cities and industries have been significantly curbed, the status of the Baltic Sea is still not good in many of our marine areas. How can a municipal politician have an impact on the status of the Baltic Sea and the waterways? What can voters demand from their candidates? We made a list of election themes that are most important for the Baltic Sea and inland waterways.

Tips for municipal election candidates:

1.  Make sure that municipal wastewaters are efficiently treated. This is the best way to help our waterways.

The efficient treatment of municipal wastewaters is an essential issue for the Baltic Sea and our inland waters. Luckily, Finnish municipalities have worked responsibly on these issues for quite a long time already. For decades, nutrients and especially phosphorus have been efficiently removed, and recently, also nitrogen removal from municipal wastewaters has been made more efficient all around Finland. This is highly important, as in most of the Baltic Sea both of these nutrients cause eutrophication. Nitrogen that is allowed to enter inland waterways will also, to some extent, end up in the Baltic Sea.

2. More locally produced fish and vegetarian dishes on the menus of municipal kitchens.

The majority, or almost 60%, of the nutrient footprint in the Baltic Sea generated by an individual person is there due to food choices. Increasing the amount of vegetables and sustainably caught domestic local fish on our plates is the easiest way to help the Baltic Sea and the climate. If, for example, only 50% of the meat on the plate of a Helsinki resident is replaced with sustainably caught fish, their nutrient footprint will decrease by 75%.  The renewed Act on Public Procurement allows municipal food procurement to favour ecological, locally produced food, so this is an easy route to take action.

3. Make sure that nutrients from the municipality are recycled sustainably.

Nutrients generated by the residents and companies in a municipality and nutrients from municipal services, such as day care centres and care homes, are transported with wastewater to the sewage sludge of treatment plants, and, with other waste, to the municipal waste management services. It is important to recycle these nutrient-containing fractions for further use smartly, so that they do not generate a load to the waterways and the Baltic Sea. Through the biogassing process, biowaste and the sewage sludge from treatment plants can be used to create climate-friendly energy. Nutrients do not, however, vanish in the biogassing process, which is why it is important to plan carefully how and when the nutrients will be put to use after biogassing.

4. Plan and build sustainably on the shores. This secures diversity and recreational use.

When municipal building projects are being planned in coastal areas, it is important to keep in mind the valuable nature of the coastline, and the recreational use of the shores. Even though coastline plots are very valuable, it is important to make sure that aside from densely built areas there are also areas where coastal nature can thrive and where residents can go for recreation.

5. Prevent climate change. This is important also for the waterways and the Baltic Sea.

Climate change makes eutrophication and biodiversity loss in the Baltic Sea and the inland waters worse, due to, for example, runoff from land and the increasing areas of anoxic seabed. This is why climate work conducted by municipalities is highly important also for our waterways. Key questions in combating climate change include low-carbon energy production, the energy efficiency of construction, housing, municipal real estate, and sustainable traffic solutions.

6. Through your political party, work on questions concerning the Baltic Sea and other waterways that are also significant on national and EU levels.

Agriculture is the largest source of nutrient runoff to the Baltic Sea and our inland waters. The fastest way to reduce runoff is treating fields with soil conditioners, such as gypsum, or in inland waters, structure lime and fibre sludge. At the same time, measures must be launched to stop the root cause of the runoff, i.e. the high nutrient content of fields, caused by animal farming. For this reason, soil conditioners and manure phosphorus carry-over aid must be included in Finland’s Rural Development Programme in the new EU programme period.  Moreover, financing from Finland’s Program for Improved Water Protection must be increasingly directed to treating fields with gypsum.

7. Direct resources to the diversity of nature and culture. Culture builds sustainability.

The significance of the environment and culture, to both individuals and society as a whole, is highlighted during crises. As research has shown, the vitality of nature and culture is essential to the wellbeing of man. Consequently, the field of culture must be boosted alongside waterway protection. Saving money in this area would increase the social and health care expenses of municipalities considerably. With arts and culture, we can create cross-generational experiences, which help to build a sustainable society.