Measuring the Impacts of Microplastics

30th October 2018

The European Commission asked us to provide support with producing measures for reducing microplastics. The resulting report is unique in its comprehensive research and wide-reaching analysis of the identification of sources and pathways of microplastics and corresponding measures.

The report, ‘Investigating Options for Reducing Releases in the Aquatic Environment of Microplastics Emitted by Products’, specifically addresses the microplastics that are created during the lifecycle of a product through wear and tear, or through accidental spills, rather than those products that have microplastics as an added intentional component.

The first part of the project saw our team quantify the issue of microplastic release. This involved:

  • Quantifying the size of microplastics: namely, what particle size should be identified as a microplastic;
  • Identifying the pathways by which microplastics enter the aquatic environment; and
  • Carrying out quantification and pathway analysis.

We carried out this analysis by assessing all of the available information on the sources, pathways and impacts of microplastics. Some of the sources that we identified included: automotive tyres and break-wear; pre-production plastics; synthetic textiles; artificial sports turf; paints and coatings; and fishing gear.

The second half of the project involved assessing the impact of microplastics on the aquatic environment, and coming up with measures to prevent their release via the pathways identified in the first part of the project, and modelling the effects of these measures on reducing levels of microplastic release.

Our team then analysed the social, economic and environmental impacts of the policy measures recommended to ensure that the European Commission had a good understanding of the wider impact the introduction of the measures would have.

The European Commission adopted a number of our recommendations, with the findings of our report informing the Commission’s Plastics Strategy.

Project Manager Simon Hann said:

“It was exciting to have the opportunity to produce the first piece of significant research into the crucial area of microplastic release. The European Commission has used our research to inform the EU Plastics Strategy, and we hope to see some of the measures put forward informing both producers and policy makers in the future.”

The report is available to download here.