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Transport sector as biggest polluter

According to a UBA study, tire abrasion is responsible for most of the plastics remaining in the environment.


A new study by the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has looked at the volume of plastics remaining in the environment in Germany. Volume estimates were made using a newly developed system. According to the study, the transport sector is the largest polluter. Between 133,000 and 165,000 metric tons of plastics are said to come from traffic each year, mostly as tire abrasion. The construction sector is said to be responsible for about 9,000 to 60,000 tons per year, followed by agriculture with about 6,000 to 22,000 tons. Consumer products such as clothing, paints and varnishes are said to follow at a considerable distance, with 900 to 2,500 metric tons annually, and the leisure and sports sector with 1,800 to 3,100 metric tons. Littering of packaging, etc., which is perceived as a particular problem by the public, is responsible for only about 650 to 2,500 tons per year. In addition to littering, there are also plastic products that are manufactured for environmentally friendly use, for example films in agriculture or browsing protection for plants. What remains of it in the environment, the authors estimate altogether on 150,000 to 235,00 tons in the year.

The calculations concern the quantities of plastics that remain in the environment after cleaning and collection measures. Currently, according to UBA President Dirk Messner, about 90 percent of the littered waste in Germany is collected again. The goal, however, would have to be to prevent waste from ending up in the environment in the first place. More attention must now be paid to areas such as tire abrasion, inputs from the construction sector and agriculture, and, for example, limit values for tire abrasion must be introduced, says Messner. In addition to the quantitative results, the study also highlights the need for research. Some of the data is still very incomplete and subject to uncertainties, which would also be shown by the wide range of the estimates.

To download the study "Plastics in the environment – development of a classification for first estimates of the fate of waste and other plastic products in different environmental media"


  • (25.5.2021)
  • Photo: @ Fotolia

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