Cross-sector cooperation key to eliminating microplastics in the marine environment

9 December 2015

Cross-sector cooperation key to eliminating microplastics in the marine environment

Small fragments of plastic are so prevalent in the North East Atlantic that it is now critical that sectors come together to tackle the problem at source if further damage to the marine environment is to be limited.

Microplastics are now found in all the world's major oceans as well as in the guts of most marine species, including the seafood we eat. Due to the nature of microplastics, removal of the particles from the sea is not feasible. However, hope lies in the identification and elimination of some of the major inputs of plastic waste long before it reaches the oceans. This challenge is set to be the subject of a policy conference, organised by the OSPAR Commission1 and supported by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment of the Netherlands, taking place this week.

Industry representatives will meet with key policy makers, NGOs and experts to discuss potential measures to reduce microplastic emissions from sources as diverse as paints, abrasive cleaning agents, clothing and tyres. The conference will identify and prioritise concrete measures to stem the flow of microplastics from land-based sources that end up in the marine environment.

Results from the conference will help to develop common policies that can be implemented by the 15 governments which are signatories to the OSPAR Convention together with the EU.1&2 This will further OSPAR’s ultimate objective to ‘substantially reduce marine litter in the North East Atlantic to levels where properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment’3.

IMAGE: Oceans Watch

Note for editors

1. The OSPAR Commission was set up by the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which unified and updated the 1972 Oslo and 1974 Paris Conventions. It brings together the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, together with the European Union.

2. More than 30 international non-governmental organisations are involved in OSPAR as official Observers. They represent a broad range of interests and expertise related to the marine environment and the uses of marine resources. Many contribute information, insights and standpoints. This is much appreciated feedback from civil society and the economy. The OSPAR Commission greatly values these partnerships that help inform its decisions and other results. (See full list at

3. OSPAR’s Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter ( focuses on the development of regionally coordinated reduction/operational targets for specific sources and items of marine litter along with monitoring and assessment and strengthening cooperation with other relevant regional and international organisations and industry.

4. Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally between 1 and 5 mm (0.039 and 0.197 in) although some are invisible to the human eye. Microplastics are mainly composed of six polymers: polyethylene, polypropylene and expanded polystyrene, which are more likely to float, and polyvinyl chloride, nylons and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are more likely to sink. Microplastic sources include industrial products such as paints, abrasive cleaning agents and tyres, and personal care products such as toothpaste and skin cleaners, as well as fragmentation of larger plastics dumped into the oceans.

5. After entering the ocean, microplastics can be distributed globally with especially high concentrations in ocean gyres, but also close to population centres and shipping routes. Microplastics have been found on beaches, in surface waters, seabed sediments and in a wide variety of marine life. Plastics tend to absorb and concentrate contaminants from surrounding seawater and can also contain a high proportion of additive chemicals incorporated during manufacture.