World Oceans Day on 8 June

Plastics in the environment

New UBA study: Numbers, background information, research needs, and measures to combat the plastic flood

Plastic waste on a beach.Click to enlarge
More and more plastic litter is collecting in our seas and oceans.
Source: Isabella Herbst

Plastics are valuable materials but become a problem when they end up as waste in the environment, where they degrade very slowly and can do harm to ecosystems and organisms. What is the scale of plastic litter in waters, soil, air and the seas and coasts of Germany? How and why does it get there in the first place? Where is there a need for more research, and what measures can be taken to reduce plastic pollution in Germany? A new publication by the German Environment Agency (UBA) provides an update on plastics in the environment.

Global production of plastic was around 1.5 million tonnes in the 1950s. That figure had risen to 348 million tonnes by 2016 and continues to grow. At the same time more and more plastic waste is ending up in the environment and is now found everywhere – in rivers, seas, soil, the oceans and in many marine organisms. It is also being discussed whether plastic particles are suspended in the air, in drinking water and other foods.

The main reason for the global flood of plastic in the environment is a lack of, or inadequate, waste and waste water management. However, plastics have many other pathways into nature which include tyre wear, abrasion from buildings, wrapping material or clothing made of plastic fibres. Cosmetics or cleaning agents contain microplastics, and fertilisers are coated in plastic too. Last but not least, plastic is increasingly entering the environment because people carelessly litter it with items such as coffee cups, cigarette butts or plastic bags.

In the new publication the authors explain what plastics are and the methods used to study and measure them in the environment. They show their presence in the waters, soil, air and seas of Germany and what impact this has on ecosystems. They identify areas in which there is (still) insufficient data and a need for research as well as measures to lastingly reduce plastic inputs to the environment in Germany and improve the state of the environment.

World Oceans Day on 8 June: Plastic litter has become a visible and urgent problem in recent years, in particular in the world's oceans. Around 75 percent of the waste found in the oceans and on beaches is some type of plastic. Research has shown that more than 800 animal species are exposed to its negative impact, often becoming tangled in or swallowing plastic parts. The UN's 'Play It Out' campaign is dedicated to fighting plastic pollution in the oceans. The motto of this year's World Oceans Day is "Gender and the Ocean".

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany

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 plastics waste