Microplastic Pollution

Scientific perspectives and its impacts

Concern about microplastic pollution and its impact on the environment and human health is increasing among scientists, policy makers and the general public.

Microplastic pollution was mentioned, but not dealt with in depth, by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors in its Scientific Opinion on Food from the Oceans (PDF icon 3.2 MB) . Following this, the Group launched a preliminary exploration of the topic at its 11th meeting (January 2018) which culminated in a workshop discussion with several experts on 26 April 2018 (see below). Based on this discussion, the Group decided at its 12th meeting (27 April 2018) to launch work leading to scientific advice on this topic based on a review of scientific evidence by SAPEA, pending endorsement by the College of European Commissioners.

Initial Statement

The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors adopted an Initial Statement on the subject on 9th July during its plenary meeting in Toulouse on the occasion of ESOF 2018 at which the European Commission endorsed the approach set out in the statement. The Scientific Advisors intend to deliver to the Commission an Explanatory Note before the end of 2018 based on a SAPEA scientific evidence review report, and a Scientific Opinion in 2019.

Related topic activities

Scientific Advice under conditions of uncertainty and complexity - The Example of Microplastic Pollution

Organisers (Dulce Boavida, Jeremy Bray), panel participants (Chenxi Wu, Thomas Backhaus, Allen Burton Jr., Martin Wagner) and moderator (Pearl Dykstra)

Experts from Europe, North America and Asia held a robust and entertaining public debate on issues related to micro-plastic pollution at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting on 15 February 2019 in Washington DC.

Their debate was moderated by Pearl Dykstra, Deputy Chair of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, and touched on the challenges inherent to science advice to policy in the face of uncertainty and contested evidence.

Debate among the participants and with audience members will contribute to the Advisors’ forthcoming opinion on microplastic pollution.


Roundtable of G7 Chief Scientific Advisors to discuss Scientific Advice cooperation for microplastic pollution

G7 Chief scientific advisors meeting, Washington DC

On 13 February 2019, in Washington DC, the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors co-hosted with Canada’s Chief Science Advisor and France’s G7 Presidency a round-table discussion among Chief Scientific Advisors or their equivalents from G7 members on “What meaningful and robust scientific advice to government is possible on microplastic pollution based on the current scientific evidence base”.

What started as a bilateral cooperation between the European Commission’s and Canada’s chief science advisors, resulted in the endorsement of the idea for this meeting at the G7 Joint Ministerial on healthy oceans, seas and resilient communities on 20 September 2018 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Environmental and Health Impacts of Microplastic Pollution – from scientific evidence to policy advice

This expert workshop was a step in the Advisors’ work to prepare evidence-based policy recommendations to the European Commission on the Environmental and Health Impacts of Microplastic Pollution.

Following endorsement by the Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors of the SAPEA Evidence Review Report "A scientific perspective on microplastics in nature and society" the Advisors organised this expert workshop on 10-11 January in Brussels. The aim of the workshop was to have a detailed discussion with experts on how to bridge from the current scientific evidence base to an EU policy-orientated Scientific Opinion on the subject. The SAPEA report featured prominently in the discussions alongside other relevant work examining the scientific evidence base by the JRC and ECHA as well as expert views provided by many experts from different scientific disciplines and backgrounds.

The five sessions of the workshop were:scene-setting - international policy context; regulatory instruments & insights from the legal and political sciences; insights from the behavioural & social sciences; insights from the natural sciences; and towards a Scientific Opinion.


Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors endorsed the SAPEA Evidence Review Report

On 9 January 2019, the Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors endorsed the SAPEA Evidence Review Report "A scientific perspective on microplastics in nature and society" and sent it to the Commission (PDF icon 297 KB) in lieu of the explanatory note which was announced in the Advisors ‘Initial Statement’ on this subject, July 2018. 

This SAPEA report is an important input to the work of the Advisors on their forthcoming Scientific Opinion on microplastic pollution and its impacts.

The policy context

The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors asked the SAM Unit to prepare an overview of the policy context pertinent to its deliberations on scientific advice to the European Commission on the environmental and health impacts of microplastic pollution. The resulting background paper, prepared by the SAM Unit with the help and input from several colleagues and collaborators, gives a snapshot of various policy measures and legislative instruments in place or under development. It covers primarily the policy landscape at EU level. It also includes chapters describing measures and initiatives at international level as well as an illustrative, non-exhaustive sampling of measures at national level in many countries worldwide.

As the policy context is evolving very quickly, the paper has attempted to include – mostly in the EU chapter but in some other places too - recent and forthcoming developments as of the completion date (15 November 2018), in full knowledge that some of this information will be rapidly out-of-date. Nonetheless it is hoped that the paper will fulfil its function to inform the process underway leading to a Scientific Opinion on the subject in 2019.


Scoping workshop with experts on Human Health and Environment Impacts of Micro and Nano Pollution

The workshop aimed at gathering the views of a number of experts, identified by the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) consortium and the SAM Support Unit, on whether or not the delivery of advice based on state-of-the-art scientific knowledge would be justified and feasible, and if so, what could be the scope of such advice and the approach to formulating it. The main points retained from this workshop discussion are recorded below.

The meeting was co-chaired by Rolf-Dieter Heuer and Pearl Dykstra.


  • Main Points (PDF icon 464 KB) (includes Participants' List and Background Note for discussion)