0249 GMT July 13, 2020
The study is one of the first worldwide to identify tire particles as a major and additional source of microplastics. Scientists have previously discovered microplastics, originating from microbeads in cosmetics and the degradation of larger items such as carrier bags and plastic bottles, in marine environments globally — from the deep seas to the Arctic, eurekalert.org reported.
Following the government's ban on rinse off microbeads, which is one of the toughest in the world, the Defra-funded study led by the University of Plymouth now reveals vital new information that will improve our scientific understanding of how tiny particles from tires, synthetic fibers from clothing and maritime gear also enter the ocean.
This project will be used to guide future research already underway on marine plastic pollution and the impact of human activities on the marine environment, as the government continues in its fight against the scourge of plastics. This includes the 5p plastic bag charge — which has led to 15 billion fewer bags distributed — and plans to end the sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds later this year.
The study shows the tire particles can be transported directly to the ocean through the atmosphere, or carried by rainwater into rivers and sewers, where they can pass through the water treatment process. Researchers estimate this could place around 100 million m² of the UK's river network — and more than 50million m² of estuarine and coastal waters — at risk of contamination by tire particles.
Its findings also highlight some of the optimal places for intervention, for example, that fitting filters to washing machines could be less effective than changing fabric designs to reduce fiber loss, with another study at the University having recently shown that normal wear and tear when wearing clothes is just as significant a source of microplastic pollution as release from laundering.
Domestic Marine Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: "Reducing plastic pollution in the ocean is one of the greatest environmental challenges that we face. This study will help us face that challenge by identifying areas for future research, such as changes to roadside drainage and textile design. The UK is at the forefront of a global fight against the scourge of plastics. In addition to the pioneering ban on microbeads and the 5p plastic bag charge, plans are also in place to end the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds."