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Methods of resolution to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment

Over a period of three years, specialists from different disciplines in industry, science and politics have been carrying out research in 20 joint projects within the research program "Plastics in the Environment – Sources, sinks, solutions", funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). On 20 and 21 April, the concluding conference took place online at which, reports the BMBF, many possible approaches in the areas of production, recycling and waste management were discussed. Possible solutions for the trade and for the utilization phase of plastics products and, not least, also for wastewater treatment, were also debated.


An estimated 600 experts came together for a virtual discussion of the results. The BMBF had launched the research priority in 2017, and the 20 joint projects were financed over a period of three years to the tune of around 37 million euros. Some 100 institutions from science, industry and practical application participated in the program, which was at the time the largest such project in the world dealing holistically with the topic of plastics in the environment. The aim was to obtain an overall picture of the effects of plastics on the environment throughout their entire life cycle, and to develop proposals for politics and society for avoiding negative effects. The main topics included the green economy, consumption and recycling and the complex topic of marine litter. Apart from looking at the quantities involved that are discharged into the seas and oceans and subsequently remain there, the aim was to also look at the discharge pathways and the behavior of plastics in limnic systems.


The result, says the BMBF, is that the projects identify among other things the pathways along which plastics are discharged into the soil and waterways, and how they subsequently behave there. For this, analytical processes were further developed and tested, resulting in a comprehensive collection of data. Such studies help to find answers to questions not only on quantities, types and places of origin but also on potential effects of microplastic on man and the environment. In addition, the experts in several areas such as plastics processing, trade, consumption and consumer behavior, as well as waste and wastewater management drew up a number of recommendations for preventing discharges of plastics into the environment. These include, for example, reducing the use of additives in production and labelling the constituents of the products so as to improve recyclability. They consider effective waste disposal systems to be just as necessary as reducing the quantity of plastics discharged into the soil and waterways during sewage sludge disposal. For this, political regulations were necessary that target above all the areas of main relevance from the volume point of view.


The BKV and associations of the plastics industry have supported the research priority from the very beginning. The BKV was actively involved, for example, in the project "MicBin – Microplastics in internal waterways", contributing its expertise in modeling for the analysis of sources and discharge pathways. The coordinator of the Mic-Bin joint project, Nicole Zumbülte, explains in an Interview the procedure and the results of the project as well as the importance of modeling for deriving measures to counter further microplastic discharges.


The report with the results and initial recommendations, together with all the available presentations of the concluding event, can be found at



  • Press release BMBF (26.4.2021)
  • Photo: © BMBF

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