Today, 10 October 2018, is national Sustainability Day in the Netherlands. At RIVM, committed to health and sustainability, we raise awareness for sustainability with this year’s theme microplastics. There has been a rapid increase in the number of scientific publications on the distribution of microplastics. However, there is still much unknown about the effects of microplastics on people and the environment. Policymakers are aware of the urgency to take measures even before all the knowledge gaps are filled.

Poorly soluble and not degradable

Microplastics are plastic particles that are smaller than 5 millimetres and are poorly soluble in water and non-degradable. Through several sources and routes such as surface water, soil and air, a large part of the microplastics end up in the sea. RIVM supports policy makers in tackling this problem.

Microplastics can be used as ingredients in products, for example in personal care products. The particles enter the surface water via wastewater. In addition, microplastics are created by disintegration of litter, during production and usage of plastic products.

Plastic is cheap, lasts a long time and has endless applications. As a result, the use of plastic has grown enormously since the 1950s and is still increasing. A consequence of this is that large quantities of plastic are polluting the oceans, seas and rivers and are found as litter on land.

Precautionary measures are needed to reduce the emission of microplastics. RIVM has taken stock of the advantages and disadvantages of potential measures. This study is available online.

Our efforts on microplastics contribute to Sustainable Development Goals 6, 1213 and 14.