Micro­pla­s­tics are ever­y­whe­re – in the sea, in the air, in cos­me­tic pro­ducts. The small pla­s­tic par­tic­les have beco­me an inte­gral part of our envi­ron­ment. Accor­ding to sci­en­tists and rese­ar­chers, the­re are vir­tual­ly no more pla­s­tic-free are­as on earth. Espe­ci­al­ly in the food sec­tor, micro­pla­s­tics are omni­pre­sent, e.g. in pla­s­tic bot­t­les, cof­fee-to-go cups or as fruits and vege­ta­bles shrink-wrap­ped in pla­s­tic. Often, pack­a­ging and pla­s­tic bags end up in the oce­ans via the rivers and thus end­an­ger mari­ne ani­mals and birds. The­se deve­lo­p­ments are a cau­se for con­cern, becau­se the pre­dic­ted growth in pla­s­tics pro­duc­tion will mean that the quan­ti­ties of pla­s­tics in the envi­ron­ment will con­ti­nue to increase in the future. The limits of eco­lo­gi­cal self-clea­ning have long been excee­ded, so the­re is an urgent need for action.

What exactly are microplastics?

Micro­pla­s­tics are pie­ces of pla­s­tic which are smal­ler than 5 mm. They are the­r­e­fo­re some­ti­mes dif­fi­cult to see with the naked eye. The­re are two types of micro­pla­s­tics: So-cal­led pri­ma­ry micro­pla­s­tics include basic pel­lets, which are the basic mate­ri­al for pla­s­tic pro­duc­tion; gra­nu­les in cos­me­tics and hygie­ne pro­ducts, such as pee­lings, tooth­pas­te, hand washing pro­ducts; micro­sco­pic par­tic­les, which are used in clea­ning jets, for exam­p­le in shi­py­ards, or in medi­ci­ne as a vec­tor for acti­ve ingre­di­ents of drugs. Secon­da­ry micro­pla­s­tics are crea­ted by phy­si­cal, bio­lo­gi­cal and che­mi­cal degra­da­ti­on of macro­pla­s­tic parts.

Source: Umwelt­bun­des­amt

The 10 largest microplastic sources

In a stu­dy by the Fraun­ho­fer Insti­tu­te for Envi­ron­men­tal Safe­ty and Ener­gy Tech­no­lo­gy UMSICHT, a total of 74 dif­fe­rent sources were iden­ti­fied that release pri­ma­ry micro­pla­s­tics. „Natur­schutz­bund Deutsch­land“ has defi­ned the ten most important sources (quan­ti­ties released per per­son per year) for microplastics:

Tire abra­si­on
(~1.230 g)

Abra­si­on bitu­men in asphalt

Pel­let los­ses

Release by was­te dis­po­sal

Drif­ting of sports and play­grounds

Release on con­s­truc­tion sites

Abra­si­on shoe soles 

Abra­si­on pla­s­tic pack­a­ging

Abra­si­on road mar­kings

Fiber abra­si­on during tex­ti­le washing

Microplastics are part of our nutrition

By inge­st­ing water, food and breathing air, we con­su­me up to 5 grams of micro­pla­s­tics per week – this is rough­ly the weight of a cre­dit card. The amount of inta­ke depends on the place of resi­dence, living con­di­ti­ons and diet. For exam­p­le, the pro­por­ti­on of micro­pla­s­tics in drin­king water is signi­fi­cant­ly hig­her in the USA and India than in Euro­pe. It is ques­tionable what exact­ly micro­pla­s­tics do to our body and whe­ther it is harmful to our health. Accor­ding to the Ger­man Fede­ral Insti­tu­te for Risk Assess­ment (BfR), the­re is no sci­en­ti­fic evi­dence to date that micro­pla­s­tics actual­ly makes peo­p­le ill. Accor­ding to the cur­rent sta­te of know­ledge, human health is the­r­e­fo­re not end­an­ge­red by micro­pla­s­tics, but nega­ti­ve effects can­not be excluded by the BfR. For exam­p­le, it is still unclear whe­ther and what effect tiny par­tic­les of pla­s­tic, so-cal­led nano­pla­s­tics, have when we take them in. Until suf­fi­ci­ent data for more con­cre­te ana­ly­ses are available, the pre­cau­tio­na­ry prin­ci­ple appli­es: redu­ce micro­pla­s­tics by pro­du­cing and using less plastic.

Microplastics in fish

An esti­ma­ted 4.8 mil­li­on tons of pla­s­tic was­te land in the sea every year. This is taken up by fish and other sea dwel­lers who con­su­me the pla­s­tic as sup­po­sed food. Most pla­s­tic has been found in the diges­ti­ve tract of the con­su­mer fish spe­ci­es cod, macke­rel, floun­der and whiting. Howe­ver, sin­ce the diges­ti­ve tract of fish is rare­ly eaten, the risks of micro­pla­s­tics in fish can be con­side­red low for con­su­mers based on cur­rent know­ledge. Whe­ther micro­pla­s­tics can enter the mus­cle tis­sue of the fish and reach our pla­te with the fil­let is curr­ent­ly being inten­si­ve­ly inves­ti­ga­ted world­wi­de. So far, howe­ver, no posi­ti­ve fin­dings are known.

Tips for reducing microplastics

In order to redu­ce micro­pla­s­tics in the long term, the sup­port of each indi­vi­du­al is requi­red. In con­cre­te terms, this means that by rethin­king your ever­y­day life, you can chan­ge a lot. This includes, for exam­p­le, repla­cing unneces­sa­ry pla­s­tic dis­hes, dis­posable bot­t­les & Co. with dura­ble mate­ri­als, e.g. wood, glass, fabric or metal. Our high-qua­li­ty drin­king water in Ger­ma­ny also allows us to sim­ply con­su­me tap water ins­tead of water in pla­s­tic bot­t­les. Even when shop­ping in the super­mar­ket, even small chan­ges can make a dif­fe­rence, becau­se on avera­ge, every Ger­man uses 76 pla­s­tic bags per year! This amount can be redu­ced quite sim­ply by swit­ching to cloth bags or bas­kets. But not only pla­s­tic bags but also food pack­a­ging cau­ses a lot of pla­s­tic. That is why in many cities the­re are alre­a­dy so-cal­led „unpa­cked“ stores whe­re you can fill the goods into con­tai­ners you have brought yours­elf. In addi­ti­on, one should pay atten­ti­on when buy­ing food to buy regio­nal pro­ducts which have a cle­ar­ly bet­ter eco­lo­gi­cal balan­ce. When buy­ing cos­me­tics, one should ide­al­ly also make sure that no arti­fi­ci­al poly­mers are added and pre­fer­a­b­ly use natu­ral cos­me­tics. Also, cos­me­tics are to be bought mean­while in many „unpacka­ged“ stores. For many peo­p­le, „To Go“ cof­fee is part of their dai­ly rou­ti­ne on the way to work. When one con­siders that more than 100 mil­li­on tons of pla­s­tic are pro­du­ced annu­al­ly for exact­ly the­se pro­ducts, which are used for less than five minu­tes, this is high­ly alar­ming. By omit­ting the pla­s­tic lid or using a ther­mo-cup, a lar­ge part of this amount could be signi­fi­cant­ly redu­ced. In the home, recy­cling can make a dif­fe­rence by sepa­ra­ting pla­s­tic was­te from other mate­ri­als so that it can be reu­sed. If you want to do some­thing useful in your free time, you can take part in gar­ba­ge-clea­ning cam­paigns and thus pre­vent pla­s­tic was­te from being dischar­ged into the oce­ans via rivers.

Which specific contribution does SEAWATER make?

More and more com­pa­nies are put­ting sus­taina­bi­li­ty and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion on their agen­da and are adap­ting some pro­ces­ses and actions accor­din­gly. SEAWATER, howe­ver, has sus­taina­bi­li­ty in its DNA. We foun­ded our start-up out of the con­vic­tion that our sus­tainable con­cept will shape the fish far­ming of the future. In addi­ti­on to the con­tri­bu­ti­on of our recy­cling con­cept to the con­ser­va­ti­on of resour­ces and short trans­port rou­tes, we are also actively addres­sing the topic of micro­pla­s­tics. On the one hand, with land-based fish far­ming that is decou­pled from the envi­ron­ment, we com­ple­te­ly avo­id harmful pla­s­tic par­tic­les get­ting into the oce­ans. On the other hand, our cus­to­mers can also be sure that our fish do not show any traces of micro­pla­s­tics insi­de, as our plant water is com­ple­te­ly free of pla­s­tic bot­t­les and old fishing nets. We also try to use as pla­s­tic-free alter­na­ti­ves as pos­si­ble for the logi­stics pro­ces­ses after purcha­se – alt­hough this is not so easy with a fresh pro­duct like fish. The cus­to­mer gets all our sea bass wrap­ped in biode­gra­da­ble wax paper. For ship­ping, we are curr­ent­ly test­ing various solu­ti­ons wit­hout plastic.

The reduc­tion of micro­pla­s­tics is urgen­tly nee­ded for a future worth living. We are con­vin­ced that ever­yo­ne can alre­a­dy make an important con­tri­bu­ti­on to pro­tec­ting our won­derful earth by making a small con­tri­bu­ti­on and rethin­king their ever­y­day lives.