It’s official, plastic is found absolutely everywhere, from the highest peak in the Pyrenes to Antarctica, via rivers and oceans. One of the recurring issues we face, and which is now dominating news headlines, is that of microplastics. In short, microplastics are small pieces of plastic, smaller than 5mm, and virtually all plastic will eventually breakdown into microplastics if left to degrade in the environment.
Data from litter picks carried out across project pilots in England and France, shows that just under of 30% of the litter collected, is unidentifiable, split into smaller pieces and starting to breakdown. Whether a synthetic fiber, a lego block or a packet of crisps, the breakdown of plastic in water, which can take hundreds of years, presents a huge problem: how do we recover this plastic once it has become so small? This is not just a problem facing oceans and rivers as we also find microplastics in the air. Unfortunately, for now, the recovery of microplastics from aquatic environments is almost impossible.
Reducing our plastic footprint remains the best option, for those items we cannot always avoid or refuse to buy. It’s time to change our habits, learn to love and reinvent our wardrobes, and adopt more sustainable alternatives and a more circular approach when it comes to plastic.
Preventing Plastic Pollution tackles existing pollution through clean-up actions, gathers data on the quantities and sources of plastic to better understand, and find the best short- and long-term solutions to reduce the impacts and legacy of plastic pollution on river and marine environments.
Our scientific partners are sampling waterways to determine the scale of microplastic contamination in river catchments . In Brest Harbour and the Bay of Douarnenez, a sampling campaign led by the CNRS, EPAB, Labocéa and PNMI is ongoing and hopes to determine the scale of contamination and identify the different types of plastics present. In the labs, researchers from Ifremer (France) and Queen Mary University London (UK) are looking into the ecological impacts on different aquatic environments and organisms.
But our understanding of the issues with plastic pollution needs to spread even further , so we also continue to raise awareness in schools, with industry and business, and the general public. Initiatives such as a “Microplastics: “, where do they come from? » led by LABOCEA, or the work of Epab on the development of an open source guide to build a washing machine filter all form part of the solutions to preventing plastic pollution.
Here are some actions we can all take to start reducing our plastic footprint :
Synthetic fibres: reducing synthetic fibres can be tackled in different ways:
- At a consumer level, by reducing the amount of clothing we buy and favouring vintage and second-hand shops.
- By minimising the impact of the fibres released when we wash our clothes. According to a study by the University of Plymouth, one wash can release up to 700,000 microfibers, and some will inevitably find their way through waste streams, into rivers and the sea.
Buy in bulk / Refill: In England, large supermarkets are starting to test out zero waste options like refills and more loose fruit and veg . Smaller zero-waste shops are becoming more commonplace, but if you don’t have access to one of these shops near you, there are also an increasing amount of online options to ditch or reduce plastic from the kitchen cupboard to the bathroom, and schemes like Refill can help you find them.
Tackle plastic in your workplace: whether by raising awareness with colleagues, or more direct action such as installing refill stations for water (without the small plastic cups) to reduce reliance on single-use drink bottles. Preventing Plastic Pollution has developed resources to help businesses take steps towards reducing plastic in the workplace.