1. ITV Report

Plymouth scientists to track tiny plastic pieces from source to ocean

Plastic from car tyres has been found in sea ice in the Arctic. Credit: PA

New research will track how tiny plastic particles from tyres, polyester clothing and fishing gear enter the oceans and affect marine life.

The Government has pledged £200,000 for scientists at the University of Plymouth to research how the particles known as ‘microplastics’ end up in the seas.

The project comes after the introduction of a ban on miniature plastic beads or 'microbeads' in care products, where the plastics can be washed down the drain.

Small plastic particles, including from car tyre friction on roads or fibres from synthetic clothes released during washing, have been found in places as remote as the Arctic sea ice.

It's thought one wash load of acrylic clothes can release 700,000 microfibres into the ocean. Credit: PA

The impact of plastic pollution on our oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our generation.

The UK is already leading the way in this area, but we want to go further - and faster.

Robust scientific evidence should support our policy proposals, and through this exciting project we will build on work under way to better understand how microplastics end up in the marine environment and what we can do to tackle this in the future.

– Therese Coffey MP, Environment Minister

The project is being led by Professor Richard Thompson

Recent estimates in Norway and Sweden have suggested that particles of tyre and debris from the road surface could be a substantial source.

With very limited real data available to confirm the impact from these sources, there is a genuine and pressing need to establish the true scale of this issue.

By combining this with an assessment of the quantities of microplastic from synthetic textiles, we can develop a more complete picture on the relative importance of various sources.

We will be able to use our findings to work with the Government, scientists and industry to try to prevent these particles entering the marine environment in the future.

– Professor Richard Thompson, University of Plymouth
Estimated tonnes of plastic created by tyres in one year
Microfibres released into the ocean by a single wash load of acrylic clothing
Researchers and politicians alike say something must be done about the escalating problem of plastic pollution. Credit: ITV West Country

The 11-month project will build on research already underway, with scientists estimating that tyres contribute 270,000 tonnes of plastics per year while a single wash load of acrylic clothing could release more than 700,000 microfibres into the ocean.