Microplastics generally refer to plastic particles between 0.33 mm and 5 mm in size[1].  Microplastics can originate from a variety of sources including, microbeads from personal care products; fibers from synthetic clothing; pre-production pellets and powders; and fragments degraded from larger plastic products.  These smaller plastic particles can be ingested by aquatic organisms. ACC’s Plastics Division and it’s member companies are committed to better understanding the potential role of microplastics in the marine environment.

How do microplastics impact the environment?

Several studies have suggested that microplastics in the marine environment can absorb persistent organic pollutants (POPs). However, a number of scientists who have examined the issue have concluded that marine plastics are unlikely contributors to bioaccumulation of POPs.

The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) has issued two reports on microplastics, Reports and Studies No. 90, Sources, Fate and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment: A Global Assessment, and Reports and Studies No. 93, Fate and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment: part 2 of a global assessment.

Both studies continue to show that microplastics in the marine environment exhibit no significant impact to human health, although the GESAMP recommends that further research would be beneficial. The GESAMP concluded that at current levels in the open ocean, microplastics are unlikely to be an important global chemical reservoir for historically released POPs such as PCB, dioxins and DDT and, therefore, it is not considered likely that microplastics will influence the breeding/development success of fish stocks (food security) nor represent an objective risk to human health through tap water (food safety).

In addition, in 2016 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report stating that “from the available limited evidence, it is concluded that microplastics in seafood do not currently represent a human health risk, although many uncertainties remain.”[2]

A 2013 study in Environmental Science & Technology examined the effects of plastic on bioaccumulation and contamination and concluded, “Given this difference and the small magnitude of the calculated effects, we conclude that the role of plastic in bioaccumulation of (POPs) is scientifically interesting but probably not very relevant from a risk assessment perspective.”[3]

The plastics industry agrees that more research will enhance current levels of understanding and is providing funding support so that additional scientific studies can be undertaken to further examine the possible effects of ocean plastics.

[1] Plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes: A Review (Driedger, et. al., 2015).

[2] UNEP (2016). Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi

[3] Plastic as a carrier of POPs to aquatic organisms: A model analysis, Albert Koelmans, Ellen Bsseling, Anna Wagner, and Edwin M. Foekema, 11 June 2013.

GESAMP

PlasticsEurope supports GESAMP’s initiative to undertake a review of current knowledge on the behaviour and fate of micro-plastics.

Mussels and lugworm study

Study on the occurrence and distribution of micro-plastics over the Belgian coast.

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