An open Letter
Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, I have a completely different approach. As some might now, I am – due to my aim to be a pro - a close follower of the science. On yesterday, I received the following letter as sent by Mrs. Dr. Melanie Bergmann of the Helmholtz Institute, Alfred-Wegener-Institute.
I want to share this letter, as I see that we recyclers do have to improve, but to improve, we need brain-food, too. I know that without us, nothing can take place, but we are seen as the guys who make a mess – and this is ridiculous. We are the ones that clean up what the society does. On the other hand, we need to know more of the problems that we need to take care for – in this case, it is about Micro- and Nano-plastics.
Enjoy reading, enjoy thinking about it and let us all find solutions.
Contact persons representing the 257 undersigned: Dr. Melanie Bergmann, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Germany, Dr. João Frias, Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, Atlantic Technological University Galway Campus, Ireland, Bremerhaven and Galway, 27 June 2022
To: Mr. Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission Mr. Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Mr. Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market RE: Academics and scholars call for EU binding measures on Microplastics Dear Vice President, Dear Commissioners,
Microplastics1, nanoplastics2, and associated chemicals, exerts wide-ranging (socio- economic and biological) impacts on all aspects of life on Earth, which call for immediate attention and binding political measures3. With this letter, we, members of the scientific community and experts working on plastic and microplastic pollution, would like to bring a joint and compelling call to your attention to adopt binding political measures to immediately reduce and stop, and prevent this pollution in the near future.
First of all, we are welcoming the recent UN Environment Assembly resolution to end plastic pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by the end of 20244. While this is one important step, further bold political actions are needed to efficiently reduce the leakage of plastic and plastic chemicals to the environment. Scientific evidence has demonstrated the widespread exposure to microplastics and associated negative impacts leading to calls for the reduction of microplastic emissions into the environment:
● Microplastics and nanoplastics are pervasive, persistent, and transboundary5 pollutants with proven harmful impacts on the environment, economy6, biodiversity7 and strong concerns for human health8. ● Plastic pollution has been found to exacerbate climate change9, 10, by releasing 4.5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions during the production, transport11 and degradation processes12, disrupting the biological carbon pump, and undermining the resilience of the environment and the ocean, one of the main climate regulators of our planet. ● Research has delivered solid and extensive evidence of toxicological effects13 of microplastics and nanoplastics. The toxicity also depends on the physical characteristics of the particles, such as shape14, size15, surface morphology, and charge16, as well as the chemical characteristics17, such as plastic chemicals contained in and environmental (persistent) contaminants absorbed to the plastic particles which can be released. Both the physical and chemical characteristics can have negative impacts on the health of humans, organisms and ecosystems18 . ● People inhale and ingest plastic particles on a daily basis, which have now been detected in human blood19. Plastic particles are contributing to particulate matter in the air we breathe, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that outdoor air pollution was responsible for 4.2 million deaths globally in 2016, microplastics in air will be responsible for part of this number20. ● On a more general level, the global consumption of materials is expected to double in the next forty years, while the amount of waste generated every year is projected to increase by 70% by 205021. Half of total greenhouse gas emissions, and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, come from extracting and processing resources22. We need to slow down the material and resource use, the production and consumption footprint overall and choose carefully for which applications we use plastics. Decades of research have demonstrated environmental, human health and ecotoxicological consequences of plastic pollution, whose impacts need to be urgently addressed by EU legislators through dedicated legislation on microplastics and a coherent approach with the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability. Recent evidence even suggests that our use of plastic and chemicals exceeds the safe operating space outlined in the planetary boundary concept23. Therefore, we demand that ongoing research on the impacts of microplastics and associated chemicals be paired with binding, concrete, and effective solutions to prevent further plastic pollution at its source by 2030, and minimize its multiple impacts on our ecosystems, climate, and health for the generations to come. Overcoming plastic pollution means tackling pollution arising from macro-24, micro- and nanoplastics as well as plastic chemicals across all identified sources and pathways, with mandatory measures, as suggested by the Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors 25: “Growing scientific evidence on the hazards of uncontrolled microplastic pollution, combined with its long-term persistence and irreversibility, suggest that reasonable and proportionate measures should be taken to prevent the release of microplastics to the environment and their formation from the break-up of macroplastics.
These measures should aim to:
a. limit the unnecessary use of plastic,
b. restrict their intentional use,
c. prevent or attenuate microplastic formation over the life-cycle of plastics and plastic-containing products,
d. avoid release into the environment as near to source as possible and e. mitigate and control at key points in pathways from source to sink.” (p.19) We fully agree with the above statement and call on the European Commission to follow up on this advice and take pragmatic prevention actions. Indeed, our common research has, over the past decades, contributed to put in evidence the hazardous character of microplastics and nanoplastics and to identify the impacts to human health, biodiversity and ecosystems (as well as knowledge gaps). Given the overwhelming wealth of evidence gathered to date, we trust the EU should give full effect to the prevention principle to guide future legislative action. The lack of timely and effective action would come at a high economic and social price26. Plastics are already ubiquitous in the environment, with microplastic and nanoplastic release and accumulation steadily increasing. Thus, political actions are required to prevent huge negative impacts and risks to biodiversity, climate, human and ecosystem’s health for future generations to come. Every year counts: a delay of five years can cause 300 million tonnes more plastic entering the environment25.
For all these reasons, we support that binding measures be imposed on all responsible economic sectors to stop plastic pollution now and call upon the European Commission to deploy the full potential of the prevention principle27 with binding measures and use environmental policy28 (articles 191 and 192 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) as a legal basis for future legislation to prevent, reduce and stop microplastic pollution. We look forward to receiving your detailed answer on the best possible course of action including on the possibility of setting up regular follow up meetings with the Commission services in charge. Yours sincerely, Dr. Melanie Bergmann Dr. João Frias
s of less than 5 mm”, European Commission, Call for evidence for an impact assessment – Microplastic pollution- measures to reduce its impact on the environment, November 2021 2 “Nanoplastics are particles resulting from the degradation of plastic objects that exhibit a colloidal behaviour within size ranging from 1 nm to 1000nm (1 micron)” Gigault et al., 2018; Materić et al. 2022, 3 UNEP, 2021 :https://www.unep.org/resources/pollution-solution-global-assessment-marine-litter-and-plastic-pollution 4 UNEP, 2022 : https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/what-you-need-know-about-plastic-pollution- resolution
5 Bergmann et al. 2017; Barrows et al 2018; Walkinshaw et al., 2020 6 Beaumont et al., 2019; Newman et al. 2015 7 Cole et al., 2013,Cole et al., 2015 ; Kaposi et al., 2014 ; Lee et al., 2013; Wright et al., 2013; Desforges et al., 2015; Steer et al., 2017; Nobre et al., 2015; Cole and Galloway, 2015; Galloway et al., 2017; Walkinshaw et al., 2020; Lo and Chan, 2018; Messinetti et al., 2018; Trestrail et al., 2019; Markic et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020; Tian et al. 2021. 8 Wright et al., 2017 ; Rist et al., 2018; Schwabl et al., 2019; Campanale et al., 2020; Daellenbach et al., 2020; Zarus et al., 2021; Ragusa et al., 2021. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abe5041 9 Stothra et al., 2021 , MacLeod, M., et al., 2021 10 Wieczorek et al. 2019; Shen et al., 2020; Kvale et al., 2021 11 Zheng & Suh., 2019 12 Royer et al., 2018 13 Rochman, 2015 ; Baini et al., 2017 ; Fossi et al., 2016; Kühn et al., 2020; Prinz and Korez, 2020; Walkinshaw et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020; Campanale et al., 2020; Sørensen et al., 2021; Aurisano, et al., 2021; Zarus et al., 2021; Zantis et al., 2021. 14 Ziajahromi, et al., 2017 15 Rist et al., 2017 16 Saavedra et al., 2019 17Zimmermann et al., 2020 18 Tekman et al., 2022 19Leslie, H.A. et al., 2022 20 World Health Organization 2018. 21 Geyer, 2020; Kaza, et al. (World Bank), 2022 et al., 2018 22International Resources Panel, 2019
23 Persson et al. 2022; Arp H.P.H et al, 2021. 24 Any solid plastic particle or object insoluble in water with any dimension above 5 mm (ISO/TR 21960:2020); Sipe et al., 2022 25 European Commission, 2019, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Environmental and health risks of microplastic pollution, Publications Office, 2019, p19. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2777/54199 26 Lau et al. 2020