While considerable uncertainty surrounds the ecological and health risks of microplastic pollution, these risks will increase in the future if microplastic pollution continues at its present rate. Widespread ecological risks are likely in the coming decades, but the absence of population-wide studies means that it is not yet possible to assess risks for human health.
In its sixth scientific opinion, on the Environmental and Health Risks of Microplastic Pollution, the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, informed by a scientific evidence review report by the Scientific Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) consortium, makes the following recommendations as a precaution against these future risks:
- Broaden existing policy to prevent and reduce microplastic pollution in both marine and freshwater environments, and in air and soil, and prioritise substance- and context-specific measures for high-volume, high-emission sources;
- Ensure that any new measures are of benefit to society by undertaking cost/ benefit and similar analyses; and
- Develop a co-ordinated international response consisting of research collaboration (including filling knowledge gaps on nanoplastic pollution), data sharing and standards development for measurement, monitoring and risk assessment.
The Chief Scientific Advisors handed over the Opinion to the Commission on 30th April 2018. In receiving the Opinion, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas said:
All good policies have one thing in common: a solid evidence base. With the rise of microplastic pollution, we need to understand how microplastics interact with people and planet so we can take action. I am therefore grateful for the work that the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors and SAPEA have done. The recommendations of the Advisors provide clarity on what we can and should do now, and what we need to know and how we can find it out in order to act later.
Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said:
These recommendations complement work already set in motion by the European Plastics Strategy. They will help us in our continued efforts to provide the highest standards of protection of public health and the environment, through sustainable management of plastics.
The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, established in October 2015, supports the Commission with high-quality, timely and independent scientific advice for its policy-making activities. As the core of the Scientific Advice Mechanism, the Group comprises up to seven independent eminent scientists, appointed in their personal capacity. The Group’s advice is informed by SAPEA Evidence Review Reports. This is the sixth Scientific Opinion that the Scientific Advisors have delivered, in addition to two Explanatory Notes and two Statements.
The Scientific Advisors began their work on this opinion in January 2018, following the Scientific Opinion on Food from the Oceans where microplastic pollution was mentioned but not dealt with in an in-depth manner.
The evidence, knowledge and expertise that informs the opinion spans natural, social and behavioural sciences and also incorporates regulatory perspectives.
This Opinion is published at a time when public and media interest in microplastic pollution is high and a number of EU policy measures either have been announced or are under development. The Advisors aim for the Opinion to contribute both to debate and to continued efforts to improve policy and practice in this and related areas.
The handover of the Opinion to the Commission took place during the inauguration of a microplastics photo exhibition in the Berlaymont Piazza. The photographer, Filipa Bessa, is a scientist and was a member of the SAPEA Expert Working Group that prepared the evidence review report that informs the Opinion.
30 April 2019