Scientists are rapidly churning out publications on the latest insights on the microplastics problem. There is, however, still a great deal that we do not know about the consequences of microplastics for man and the environment. Policymakers realise that we cannot afford to wait until all the gaps in our knowledge are filled before taking measures. This newsletter keeps you up to date on the most recent developments in knowledge and policy.

Microplastics can penetrate plant roots

Ontkiemend plantje

Research carried out by Professor Willie Peijnenburg and his colleagues at Leiden University and RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment has shown that microplastics can penetrate plants via their roots and, thus, also end up in our food. It is not yet clear whether this entails health risks.

 

Microplastics can penetrate plant roots in two ways: they are either sucked up by the plants or they enter via the places where side roots develop. The Plastic Soup Foundation and the NOS (Dutch Broadcast foundation) have reported on the research (in Dutch).

 

Microplastics are released into the environment by, for example, degradation of litter, car tyres or agricultural plastic film. Such plastics can degrade slowly, releasing tiny particles into the environment over the course of decades. It is still unclear how many particles someone has to ingest before his or her health is affected. But however we look at it, the presence of these particles in plants is undesirable from the point of view of sustainability. Microplastics in the environment are pollutants that in principle do not belong there.

EU study: Cost-benefit analysis of microplastics policy measures relating to microplastics

On 24 March, the Directorate General for the Environment of the European Commission announced various public tenders for 2020. One of the subjects concerns a cost-benefit analysis of policy measures to reduce the unintended release of microplastics. The definitive announcement is expected to appear shortly on Tenders Electronic Daily (TED). RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment is keen to apply for this tender and would like to form a consortium with external partners wishing to cooperate on the analysis. Would your organisation be interested in forming a consortium with us for this call? If so, please send an e-mail.

Third online meeting of the Microplastics in Textiles Network

The third online meeting of the Microplastics in Textiles Network was held on 28 May 2020, the objective being to further discuss how to tackle the problem of microfibres in clothing. Under the motto ‘ we all wear clothes so we can all contribute’, the chain was broadly represented, as was the case with the previous meetings. After all, every link in the chain can help reduce the emission of microplastics by textiles into the environment. Water boards, sewage water treatment plants, washing machine manufacturers, developers of filters, clothing manufacturers, the retail sector, research institutions, NGOs, professional laundries and the government participated in the online meeting.

 

At the meeting, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) told the participants about the direction European policy will take regarding microplastics in textiles: it will focus on determining measures that will be effective and broadly supported. The network will now therefore be taking up the challenge to further elaborate possible concrete measures.

 

RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment will support the network with know-how and, in the near future, by convening a knowledge group to interpret and structure the available research, which can be used by the affiliated parties to further elaborate concrete measures at the next network meeting in July. A final meeting will be held in December at which the network’s results for this year will be shared with a wide audience.

RIVM Strategic Programme (SPR): microplastics project

The negative consequences of the use of plastic is attracting increasing attention. Recent publications have revealed that not only microplastics but also nanoplastics are being released into our environment. There is a growing awareness that measures must be taken to, among other things, reduce the burden and detrimental effects for man and the environment. This is why the RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment board has decided to set up a project, which will fall under the RIVM Strategic Programme, to collect more knowledge about the undesirable and detrimental effects of plastics on man and the environment. RIVM’s SPRStrategic Programme RIVM microplastics project will focus on critical knowledge building, scientific innovation and national and international cooperation. More information will follow shortly on https://www.rivm.nl/en/sustainability.

Can microplastics blow out of the sea?

A recent open-access published study investigates whether plastics in the sea can also be a source of microplastics in the air: can microplastics blow out of the sea?

 

A pilot study carried out in the Gulf of Biscay (France) measured whether microplastics from the sea blow ashore. These preliminary results showed that varying quantities of microplastics were, indeed, present in the air.

 

The researchers conclude that it is possible for microplastics in the sea to be blown back to the land again by the wind. However, it should be noted that the precise origin of the microplastics measured is not absolutely clear. The land is, furthermore, the largest source of microplastics. The quantity of microplastics blown from the land into the sea is therefore greater than that blown from the sea to the land. In this study, researchers advise that seas should be seen more as secondary sources of microplastics, because microplastics can spread enormous distances in them.

Microplastics & Health Knowledge Agenda of the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw)

In 2019, ZonMw set up the first international research programme on micro and nanoplastics: Microplastics & Health. Fifteen one-year research projects were started under this programme. These projects will soon be completed, but many questions remain unanswered. More research is needed and ZonMw has therefore been commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W) to develop a knowledge agenda in the field of microplastics, environment and health. This agenda can subsequently be used as a basis for possible follow-up research in the current Microplastics & Health programme from 2021. Policy, research and practical input for this agenda has been collected by means of targeted interviews with experts, online meetings and an open consultation. The Microplastics & Health Knowledge Agenda will be published in October 2020.

Plastic Waste Partnership Photo Competition

Various media have reported a global increase in plastic litter in recent months. This increase has been caused by materials used for protection against the novel coronavirus. Various community organisations and initiatives, including Nederland Schoon the Plastic Soup Surfer, are trying to reduce the problem by raising awareness amongst citizens regarding the detrimental effects of this trend. In March 2020, the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Partnership initiated a photo competition focusing on the ‘plastic waste problem and its solutions’. Everyone is welcome to participate.

 

Submissions will be judged by an expert jury and the winning photos will be used for a plastic waste calendar that will be handed out at the ‘Conference of the Parties’ of various UNUnited Nations  treaties in 2021.

 

The Plastic Waste Partnership was set up in 2019 and it calls upon representatives of governments, international organisations, NGOs, academia and industry to work together to ban plastic waste in the environment.

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