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.