Plastics in the Environment – Sources • Sinks • Solutions
Plastics in the environment are a global problem and the evidence for this is hard to miss: huge waste deposits are seen in the oceans even in remote areas of the Arctic, plastic particles are found in the stomachs of fish and seabirds, and plastics of all sizes and shapes are clearly visible on almost any beach around the world.
Despite a range of activities and approaches, our knowledge of the full extent of plastic pollution is still limited: there is not enough validated knowledge on the origins of plastics in the ocean, their behaviour in oceans, inland waters and soils, and how they could affect animals and humans.
Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF) addresses this issue with its current research focus, an initiative called “Plastics in the Environment – Sources • Sinks • Solutions”. The BMBF is thus supporting the transition to a resource and environmentally friendly economy, which is at the heart of the flagship initiative Green Economy within the BMBF-framework programme ”Research for Sustainable Development” (FONA). With this research focus, the BMBF expands on work conducted in previous funding measures, e.g.: the international funding programme investigating microplastics in the oceans (part of JPI OCEANS), the ongoing joint research project “Microplastics in the water cycle” (MiWa) (part of the funding priority Sustainable Water Management), as well as the Social-ecological Junior Research Group PlastX working in this area.
The interdisciplinary nature of the research focus will enable a better understanding of the environmental impacts of plastic waste from river basins all the way to the oceans. The aim of the research is a first and comprehensive scientific assessment of the problem of plastic waste and to fill in existing knowledge gaps. In addition, solutions for reducing the emission of plastics into the environment are identified and implemented. For this purpose, the entire value chain of plastics, from production and use to disposal, is examined in order to identify opportunities for improvement and options for action, especially in an international context.
In the period of 2017–2021, a total of 18 joint research projects and an accompanying scientific project will be funded with around €35 million. More than 100 institutions from science, industry , civil society, and public administration are involved in what is currently the world‘s largest research focus in the field of the effects of plastic on the environment.
The goal of the BMBF’s research focus “Plastic in the Environment – sources, sinks and solutions” is to develop and establish scientific procedures, methods, instruments and concepts for investigating plastics in the environment. This involves
- creating a consistent picture of the overall problem and making it the basis for international action
- identifying, developing, and implementing solutions to the problem together with relevant political, economic and social actors
- starting projects to reduce entry of plastics into the environment in cooperation with international partners from countries that constitute the most important producers and consumers of plastic
The overarching, long-term goal is to noticeably reduce the amount of plastics in the environment.