OSPAR organises conference to tackle microplastics in the seas

The Oslo Paris Commission (OSPAROSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic made up of representatives of the Governments of the 15 signatory nations.) reports, 9th December 2015: Small fragments of plastic (microplastics) 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 small plastic particles in the environment that are generally between 1 and 5mm (0.039 and 0.197in) 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.

OSPAR organises conference to

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. After entering the ocean, microplastics can be distributed globally with especially high concentrations in ocean gyresgyre A circular pattern of currents in an ocean, 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.

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 Commission and supported by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment of the Netherlands, taking place this at the beginning of December.

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.

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’.

Source: OSPAR, 9th December 2015. For further details, see www.ospar.org/news/cross-sector-cooperation-key-to-eliminating-microplastics-in-the-marine-environment

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