The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has been commissioned to identify significant sources in Sweden of plastic microparticles released into the marine environment and to act to reduce the origination and release of microplastics from these sources.
Plastic objects comprise the largest portion of marine waste. Plastic is especially problematic since it does not naturally decompose, but rather it is continually broken down to smaller pieces. The smaller these pieces become, the greater the risk they are ingested and incorporated into animal cells and tissues. Small organisms, such as plankton and mussels, can consume these small plastic particles as food. As well, there are indications that microplastics bind organic environmental toxins. Both microplastics and environmental toxins may accumulate to be transported further up the food chain, where they may create a long-term threat to marine animal life and human health.
Microplastics in the marine environment derive not only from plastic waste. Studies have shown that these microplastics also derive from other sources, such as road wear that passes into urban runoff, and from washing polyester clothing where the textile fibres are transported into wastewater. Microplastics added to cosmetic products may also be released to the marine environment through wastewater.
The Swedish EPA shall identify the sources in Sweden and prioritize these in order of those that should be addressed to reduce the microplastic releases. Sources that should be included in the assessment include packaging material, chemical products, plastic fibres and textiles, building materials, plastics in agriculture, tires, and artificial grass. The commission includes possible measures for reducing such releases at both the source of and in the disbursal pathways for these microplastics.
The Swedish EPA shall also track developments in this regard in the EU and internationally. If national measures are deemed appropriate or possible, then an overview assessment shall be conducted of the advantages and disadvantages related to various control instruments, both for Europe and the international community.
The commission also includes compiling current understanding in research as to the best available technology for wastewater systems, and to propose measures as necessary.
Authorities tasked to protect marine and water environments, and with regulatory authority for products and operations that may contribute to dispersal of microplastics will contribute to the immediate commission. And this will be conducted in collaboration with municipalities and county councils, industry associations within the business sector, waste treatment organisations, environmental organisations and other affected parties.
The commission shall be reported to the Ministry of the Environment and Energy on or before 15 June 2017.