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Litter and microplastics

Litter, and in particular plastic litter, has been accumulating in the world's oceans over the past decades. In the marine environment, it undergoes various degradation processes causing it to fragment into small particles. Microplastics (MPs) are defined as fragments less than 5 mm in size. Recent studies have shown that MPs are omnipresent in all ocean compartments (water, sediment, organisms). It is highly probable that plastic fragmentation processes do not stop at MPs and also generate particles smaller than 1 µm, known as nanoplastics (NPs).

 

Microplastics prepared in the laboratory for experimental purposes
Microplastics prepared in the laboratory for experimental purposes

 

Nurdles, EPS (expanded polystyrene), fragments of plastics used to artificially contaminate sediments
Nurdles, EPS (expanded polystyrene), fragments of plastics used to artificially contaminate sediments

 

 

Plastic waste can contain certain toxic constituents and additives, and can adsorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants (POPs) present in the water. They can be ingested by marine organisms and cause harmful effects on their health.

Today, many scientific uncertainties remain over the behaviour, fate and impact of plastic waste on the marine environment and its accumulation is a growing public concern. What's more, there is as yet little information on the effects of this accumulation on marine ecosystems.

Commissioned by the French Water and Biodiversity Directorate under the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, as the national leader for marine litter in relation to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and national delegate for the Intersessional Correspondence Group on Marine Litter (ICG-ML) under the OSPAR Convention, Cedre has been operationally involved in the issue of litter in the marine environment since 2009. In this capacity and given its analytical and experimental facilities, Cedre has come to expand its research activities to encompass the field of marine litter.

In this respect, Cedre is involved in several activities:

  • Evaluating shoreline pollution by litter for mainland France, through international monitoring programmes under OSPAR (mechanism through which fifteen governments and the European Union cooperate for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic) and more specifically the MSFD programme, descriptor D10. Marine litter, sub-programme 1: Beach litter. This action aims to determine the quantities, types, sources and spatial distribution of litter larger than 5 mm in size (referred to as "macro-waste") on the French shoreline from data obtained though the national OSPAR/MSFD beach litter monitoring network.

 

Examples of litter found on the French shoreline
Examples of litter found on the French shoreline

 

 

 

Results of a study conducted in Brest's roadstead
Results of a study conducted in Brest's roadstead

 

 

 

  • Assessing microplastics on the shores of mainland France, under the MSFD international monitoring programme, descriptor D10. Marine litter, sub-programme 4, microparticles on the shoreline. Cedre has developed a monitoring protocol for microplastics on beaches, in order to assess them in terms of quantities, types and spatial distribution across sandy beaches. A national monitoring network is currently being set up and monitoring is due to start in 2019.

 

 

 

Microplastics and litter on the strandline
Microplastics and litter on the strandline

 

 

 

Sediment sampling kit for monitoring microplastics
Sediment sampling kit for monitoring microplastics

 

 

Furthermore, Cedre is involved in research projects aimed at improving knowledge of the behaviour, weathering and impact of litter on the marine environment, which involve:

1. Studying the contamination, weathering and impact on marine organisms (fish and invertebrates) of cigarette butts, an action conducted within the framework of the CleanAtlantic project.

 

 

 

Studying cigarette butt decomposition on the beach
Studying cigarette butt decomposition on the beach

 

Examples of cigarette butts collected on a beach at different stages of decomposition
Examples of cigarette butts collected on a beach at different stages of decomposition

 

 

 

2. Studying contamination by expanded polystyrene and its impact in the marine environment, an action conducted within the framework of the OceanWise project. Better known in its abbreviated form EPS, expanded polystyrene is used, due to its properties, to manufacture fish boxes, food trays, insulation boards for the building industry, etc 

 

 

EPS colonised by marine organisms (gooseneck barnacles or acorn barnacles)
EPS colonised by marine organisms (gooseneck barnacles or acorn barnacles)

 

 

 

 3. Studying microplastics as contaminant vectors, by analysing potential contaminants present on microplastics and/or contained in plastic matter (constituents, additives, etc.) and by analysing the transfer of these contaminants to marine organisms through ingestion.

Last update: 11/12/2018