Belgium’s Secretary of State for the North Sea, Philippe De Backer has galvanized efforts behind his nation’s recently published national action plan to combat marine litter. The Marine Litter Action Plan provides a detailed look at the problem and outlines steps that can be taken to address it.
“The North Sea cannot become a plastic soup,” said De Backer. “This plan is the starting shot in the fight against plastic and other waste in our ocean.”
On the bottom of the North Sea are 3,125 identifiable pieces of waste per square kilometer, says De Backer. Aside from being dangerous to marine plants and animals, plastics and other toxins wind up back in the food chain, becoming a danger to human health.
De Backer said that he would work with industries, such as cosmetic companies to set up so-called “blue deals” to try to reduce the amount of plastic used in industrial processes and prevent what is used from winding up in the ocean. He will also work with wastewater treatments plants on campaigns to make clear exactly what can and cannot be flushed down toilets, washed down sinks and poured into drains.
He emphasizes that the North Sea was particularly vulnerable because of the amount of container traffic headed in and out of ports.
“The North Sea is starting to be called the sewer of Europe,” he says. Earlier measures have made a different, and the sea is cleaner than it once was, he said, “but beach is not a rubbish bin. Our North Sea is not a garbage dump."
De Baker met with OSPAR’s marine action group in Brussels during the first week of December 2017 to present his views. Discussions at the OSPAR meeting also included improving the accuracy of OSPAR’s assessment and monitoring of marine litter, updating OSPAR’s Guideline for monitoring marine litter on beaches (OSPAR Publication 526), developing new assessments of microplastics in the marine environment, and progress on fulfilling the commitments in OSPAR’s Marine Litter Regional Action Plan. Before leaving Brussels, the OSPAR Secretariat also met with other Regional Sea Conventions (HELCOM and the BARCELONA CONVENTION) and the EU to discuss similarities between activities happening across the different regions, and to look for potential opportunities to collaborate.