Project Summary

The project will inform national policy and action to reduce the release and impacts of microplastics on our environment and oceans:

  1. A literature review will firstly identify key marine microplastics research and policy development internationally, with a focus on research that is contextual to microplastics in the Australian marine environment
  2. From this literature review, an options paper will be developed to explore the most feasible and impactful policy approaches for the Australian context and that can be used to form the basis for discussions at a workshop.
  3. A one day workshop will draw together policy-makers, researchers and relevant industry peak bodies to discuss and recommend policy and other options to limit microplastics release into the environment. A workshop report will be drafted to summarise findings, recommendations, and next steps.

    The report will provide evidence to underpin the development of national policy aimed at reducing microplastic pollution, including by identifying priority actions to deliver Australia’s 2018 National Waste Policy .

Project Description

Plastic pollution is a growing issue in Australia and globally. In its January 2016 report, the World Economic forum estimated that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans and that this amount is forecast to grow to 250 million tonnes in 2025. In the EU, it is estimated that between 75,000 and 300,000 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment each year.

A recent report by the WHO concluded that microplastics are present in all biota - air, soil, sediment, freshwater, seas, oceans, plants and animals. In controlled experiments, at high concentrations microplastics were shown to cause physical harm to the environment and living creatures. While some knowledge of microplastic concentration exist for the ocean surface and some freshwaters, little is known about air and soil compartments and about concentrations and impacts below the ocean surface. The WHO report also concluded there is a need to undertake a great range of work to understand the impacts of microplastics, in particular nanoplastics, from risk analysis to fate, exposure, impacts and modelling that can simulate flow through the environment.

Finding a solution to the problems caused by plastics and microplastics is complex, requiring a multi-faceted approach. Evidence suggests that in the EU over two-thirds (by weight) of microplastic pollution comes from the break-up of large pieces of plastic litter and the other third enters the environment already as microplastics, either intentionally produced  (e.g. plastic pellets, microplastics added to products), or as a result of wear and tear during the normal life-cycle of plastic-containing products (e.g. synthetic textile fibres, tyre abrasion, automotive brakes, artificial turf, etc.). Tyre abrasion and synthetic textile fibres represent the greater proportions of overall microplastic emissions with city dust and plastic pellets also accounting for sizeable proportions.

The EU are currently considering a range of measures to restrict and reduce microplastics from entering the environment. The EU Plastics Strategy will be one part of this, since targeting the reduction in leakage of large plastics stops their fragmentation into microplastics in the environment. Actions to specifically reduce microplastics leakage are also being considered. For example, ECHA are undertaking public consultation on a proposal for a wide-ranging restriction on intentional uses of microplastics in products on the EU market.