The best available evidence suggests that microplastics and nanoplastics do not pose a widespread risk to humans or the environment, except in small pockets. But that evidence is limited, and the situation could change if pollution continues at the current rate.
The report comprehensively examines the best available evidence from the natural sciences and computer modelling, as well as social, political and behavioural sciences. Its key conclusions are:
Microplastics — tiny particles under 5mm in length — are already present across air, soil and sediment, freshwaters, seas and oceans, plants and animals, and in several components of the human diet.
These particles come from a variety of sources, including plastic products, textiles, fisheries, agriculture, industry and general waste.
In controlled experiments, high concentrations of these particles have been shown to cause physical harm to the environment and living creatures, including inducing inflammation and stress.
However, the concentration levels measured in many real-world locations are well below this threshold — though there are also limitations in the measurement methods currently available.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the environment, there is no reliable evidence about the levels or effects of these particles. This is true especially of nanoplastics, which are very difficult to measure and evaluate.
High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy: cited in the 2019 report The ocean as a solution to climate change. The panel consists of the presidents or prime ministers of Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal
van Sebille, E., Aliani, S., Law, K. L., Maximenko, N., Alsina, J., Bagaev, A., Bergmann, M., Chapron, B., Chubarenko, I., Cózar, A., Delandmeter, P., Egger, M., Fox-Kemper, B., Garaba, S. P., Goddijn-Murphy, L., Hardesty, D., Hoffman, M. J., Isobe, A., Jongedijk, C., … Wichmann, D. (2020)The physical oceanography of the transport of floating marine debris Environmental Research Letters.
Verburg, C.; van Everdingen, J.; van Donk, E.; Poolen, D.; Buiter, R. (2019). Plastic: van zegen tot vloek. Den Haag: Stichting Biowetenschappen en Maatschappij.
The report is also being used in a seminar with students of environmental science at ETH Zurich.
Politico Europe: Microplastics not always a risk (10 January 2019)
Evidence from our report was presented at this seminar hosted by the University of Aarhus in Denmark.
Science meets Parliaments 2019
Science meets Parliaments 2019 brought together decision-makers and researchers for a two-day event at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss the role of science in 21st century policy-making and how to gear it towards solutions to the challenges of our time.
Science advisors from the G7 countries, convened by the European Commission and the Chief Science Advisor of Canada, met in Washington DC to discuss the SAPEA report and future cooperation in advising world governments on microplastics.
European Commission expert workshop
The SAM Unit of the European Commission assembled a range of experts to discuss the SAPEA report and provide input into the forthcoming Scientific Opinion of the GCSA.
ALLEA General Assembly
The ALLEA General Assembly convenes Academies of Sciences and Humanities from 40 countries across the Council of Europe region. SAPEA used the impact of the microplastics report as a springboard to discuss the interaction of science and society.
European Maritime Day
The European Maritime Day is the annual EU meeting point on maritime affairs and blue growth. It targets maritime professionals, entrepreneurs and ocean leaders from businesses, governments, public institutions, NGOs and academia. Our microplastics report was exhibited as part of this conference.
EurOCEAN is a high-level science-policy conference co-organised by European Marine Board, the European Commission and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.
GESAMP is the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection. The SAPEA report on microplastics was the subject of the keynote address at a GESAMP expert workshop.
The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is a global professional society established which provides a forum for individuals and institutions engaged in education, research and development, ecological risk assessment and life-cycle assessment, chemical manufacture and distribution, management and regulation of natural resources, and the study, analysis, and solution of environmental problems. We presented our report on stage in 2019.
UN World Oceans Day
In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly decided that, as of 2009, 8 June would be designated by the United Nations as World Oceans Day. A large number of events are organised around the world on this date. In 2019, we discussed microplastics with the public at a city science fair in Sopot, Poland, and ran a custom-made escape room game to communicate key microplastics messages.
Albanian forum on microplastics
The Albanian Academy of Sciences co-organised an event on SAPEA’s microplastics report on 11 June 2019 in Tirana.
Solutions to plastics in the ocean: the Baltic and beyond
We presented our report at this pan-Scandinavian symposium in Stockholm, organised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.
International conference on environmental psychology
Our report was featured in a poster at this behavioural science conference in the UK.
International Science Council
Our report was used as an illustration of best practice in reaching the 2030 UN sustainable development goals by the International Science Council at their meeting in September.
A scientific perspective on microplastics in nature and society in Slovenia
Our report will be presented by two working group members: Dr Gabriela Kalcikova and Professor Wouter Poortinga. The meeting will be open to a diverse audience from academia and universities, to Slovenian policymakers, NGOs and the private sector.
SAPEA microplastics event in Finland
At an event in Helsinki, the SAPEA report will be a starting point for the discussion on risks of microplastics to human and the environment, the relationship between research, scientific data and legislation, and the presence of microplastics in Finnish waters.
The science of microplastics in the world ocean
The SAPEA report was presented at this international workshop to formulate next steps in understanding the fate, distribution, impacts, and technology development necessary to push the science.
Erasmus Maris days
Our report was presented and discussed at this academic conference in Spain.
acatech am Dienstag
The German national academy of technical sciences hosted a public outreach event about microplastics in Munich, where SAPEA’s report was prominently featured.
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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 737432. The information and opinions on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Commission. The SAPEA Consortium is not responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained in this website by anyone, including European Union institutions and bodies or any person acting on their behalf.
Pariser Platz 4a