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Plastics in the environment: Overview of BKV studies and research requirements

For some years now, the plastics industry has been in a deep-seated process of change and is gearing itself intensively to a future in which plastics are lead by circularity and, thus, utilised as sustainably and efficiently as possible. Intensive discussions on plastics in the environment, both in the land and in the seas, are being carried out at EU level and globally such as in the consultations at the United Nations on a global agreement at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee INC-4 in April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada.


BKV keeps busy with these subjects. As part of its focus area "Plastics in the Environment", BKV offers several detailed studies that deal with plastic discharges both from terrestrial and from aquatic sources. Especially the report on "Plastics in the Environment in Germany" and the handbook for the model "From Land to Sea – Model for the documentation of land-sourced plastic litter" provide an overall picture that documents the relevant discharges of polymers from Germany into the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, and records input volumes into the discharge pathways. In addition to this, there are various special studies, for example on compost, littering, tyre abrasion and, most recently, pellet losses. All these studies were carried out by Conversio Market & Strategy GmbH. In addition to this, the study "Plastics Flow", which is also compiled by Conversio on behalf of BKV every two years, offers data and facts on the production, conversion,and consumption of plastics as well as the use of recycled materials in Germany. The "Plastics Flow in Germany 2023" is currently ongoing and will be published in autumn 2024. All the studies together form a solid and comprehensive database for a fact-based discussion along the plastics life cycle.
We asked Christoph Lindner, managing partner of Conversio Market & Strategy, where, in his opinion, a further need exists for information and research on the topic of "plastics in the environment" in the foreseeable future.
Mr. Lindner, in the field of plastics, the environment and the circular economy, numerous studies are already available, which provide an overall view of plastics in the environment. How do you regard future developments and where do you see a need for further research in the field of plastics and the environment? Are there perhaps, from your point of view, any issues that should be prioritised?
One necessity that is certainly still highly relevant is to keep a close eye on littering of macroplastics, in other words plastic products, respectively plastics waste. The demand for further research exists in particular in areas such as packaging (e.g. on effects of the SUP Directive – the Single-Use Plastic Directive from the EU on littering) and also with building products, some of which remain in the environment for a very long time (e.g. cables, plastic pipes etc.).
Also particularly important are the transport losses of microplastics, both in coastal areas and inland, and also especially at transshipment centres and loading areas. We suspect that a significant quantity of pellets get into the environment via this route. Here, there is a need for more detailed studies to avoid such emissions. Also, the question arises of what quantities of microplastics are washed out of the sewage system into rainwater drainage tanks during periods of heavy rain. This is still completely unknown. Over and above this, fibre emissions from textiles during the washing process are the subject of much public discussion and an area that has up until now been subjected to very little research.
Another important topic concerns discharges into the environment in conurbations and leisure areas in the vicinity of lakes and waterways, as well as littering in regions with intensive tourism. It would be an interesting field of research to investigate how strong the influence of this civilisation waste is and, in addition, possible sinks would reduce it by suitable measures.
Finally, we should also take a look at regions outside Germany. Especially in European countries situated on the coast or in countries with a simple waste disposal infrastructure, the data situation is currently very sparsen.
Mr Lindner, thank you very much for your assessment!

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