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Measures to reduce microplastic emissions in the environment

Publication date: 04 June 2018
Modificationdate: 05 June 2018

Microplastics are plastic particles that are smaller than 5 millimetres; through the use of plastic or rubber products these microplastics can end up in the environment (surface water, soil, and air). The uncertainty about the effect of microplastics for humans and ecosystems is still large. Therefore, precautionary measures are considered to reduce the emission of microplastics. RIVM has taken stock of the advantages and disadvantages of potential measures. This study focusses on three sources: abrasion of tyres (the biggest source) and paint, and microplastics added to abrasive cleaning agents (a minor source).

It is difficult to devise effective and feasible measures that significantly reduce such emissions. This is because abrasion cannot be completely prevented. A car tyre must have a short braking distance, and this is not possible without abrasion of the tyres. This example also illustrates how producers are confronted with many and often contradictory requirements in the area of effectiveness, safety, and environmental impact. In addition, influencing consumer behaviour is possible only to a limited degree. For example, abrasion of car tyres can be reduced by ensuring that the tyre pressure is maintained at the appropriate level. However, many drivers do not ensure that this is the case.

Preventive measures

Preventive measures, in particular, would seem to be effective in reducing the emission of tyre wear particles. Such measures could include the introduction of information provided to consumers about the susceptibility to abrasion of different types of tyres. Measures aimed at optimising tyre pressure, such as tyre pressure monitoring systems, can also significantly reduce emissions. Whether or not these measures are cost-effective will depend on how they are implemented. For example, they can be supported by legal regulations, encouraged via financial rewards, or brought to the attention of the public via an information campaign.

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