In August 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the limited data available provides “little evidence that micro- and nanoplastics have adverse effects in humans… [but] measures should be taken to mitigate exposure”. In a whitepaper published on November 10, 2022, by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Jan Harm Urbanus and co-authors present mitigation strategies that can allow a 70% reduction in microplastics` quantity by 2050 in the Netherlands.
Based on scientific publications and validated databases, the authors developed the “TNO’s microplastics model” which employs a cumulative materials flow analysis framework. The model considers the annual consumption of plastics separated by sectors (e.g., packaging, agriculture), the formation of microplastics throughout the value chain, as well as the distribution of microplastics in environmental compartments and biota.
For the Netherlands, the model demonstrated that rubber car tires, packaging, and agricultural films are the biggest sources of microplastic pollution. Furthermore, packaging contributes up to 130 kilotonnes of microplastics in the Dutch environment.
TNO further calculated the effectiveness of 17 mitigation strategies. This showed that the five mitigation strategies which could have the highest impact to prevent or reduce the formation of microplastics in the Netherlands are (1) refuse, rethink, and reduce strategies (R-strategies) (2) the restriction of single-use plastics, (3) the use of materials with a lower potential to generate microplastics, (4) the implementation of litter clean-up concepts together with the extension of deposit systems, and (5) the use of improved car tires and measures to trap rubber particles. “By implementing these mitigation strategies, a 70% reduction in microplastics by 2050 (37% by 2030) is possible, even in a scenario where plastics consumption increases.”
The authors also evaluated the costs and benefits of each of the 17 mitigation strategies for industry and the public. They concluded that the cooperation of industry, consumers, government bodies, NGOs, and knowledge institutions would be necessary to achieve such high reductions.
Urbanus, J. H. (2022). “Microplastics are everywhere: 70% reduction achievable.” TNO innovation for life. (pdf)
TNO innovation for life (November 10, 2022). “Why reducing microplastics is essential and achievable.”
This article was originally published by Lisa Zimmermann at the Food Packaging Forum.