Action plan to tackle ‘plastic soup’ in North Sea


The federal secretary for the North Sea has launched an action plan to clean up the growing amount of plastic found in the North Sea

Preventative measures

Federal state secretary Philippe De Backer (Open Vld) has brought together Belgium’s main players in marine environmental concerns to create an action plan for cleaning plastics out of the North Sea. In charge of North Sea matters, De Backer wants to not only work on clean-up efforts but to “tackle the problem at its source”.

The Marine Litter Action Plan provides the first detailed look at the problem and concrete 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.”

Scientists have confirmed that there are 3,875 identifiable pieces of floating waste per square kilometre in the North Sea. Nearly 96% of that is plastic.

That sounds dramatic, but the worldwide average is 13,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre. This includes the obvious fishing nets and plastic bags but also microplastics, which are often due to industrial processes and products. Even toothpaste going down the drain contains microplastics that wind up in the ocean.

Food chain

On the bottom of the North Sea, meanwhile, are 3,125 identifiable pieces of waste per square kilometre. Aside from being dangerous to marine plants and animals, said De Backer, 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 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 emphasised 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 said. Earlier measures have made a different, and the sea is cleaner than it once was, he emphasised, “but plastic is a growing problem. It’s time to make the North Sea cleaner”.

Flemish coast

The Flemish coast is a 67-kilometre sandy stretch on the North Sea. With its wide beaches, quiet dunes and polders, it’s Flanders’ most-visited tourist attraction.
Day-trippers - A two-hour drive at worst from most Flemish cities, the coast especially draws day tourists during the summer.
Kusttram - Connecting Knokke all the way to De Panne, the “Coast Tram” is the staple means of transportation along the coast. It’s the longest tramline in the world.
Theater Aan Zee - Every summer, a 10-day music and theatre festival is organised in and around Ostend.

coast municipalities


kilometres long


million visitors annually