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Study Reveals Paint Is The Largest Source Of Microplastics In The Ocean

The first-ever global study of paint-related microplastics in the world’s ocean reveals that two million tonnes is leaked every year, more than textiles, tyres, or pellets.

A report released by EA – Environmental Action, a Swiss-based scientific research firm of world-renowned experts on plastic pollution footprinting, reveals that paint could be the largest source of microplastic leakage into the world’s ocean.

The first-ever piece of research of its kind, initiated by ocean impact technology company Pinovo, the Plastic Paints the Environment report shows that far more paint is leaked into the ocean than conventional and more discussed microplastic contributors such as tyres, dust, pellets, and textiles. EA’s findings estimate that paint contributes 1.9 million tonnes, or 58% of microplastics into the ocean every year. This is significantly higher than previous historical and academic consensus, which estimated that paint contributed to between 9 and 21% of microplastics in our ocean and waterways.

Until now the negative environmental impact of paint – a substance that covers a wide range of everyday items including buildings, boats, cars and almost all types of infrastructure – has been largely underreported. Despite paint largely consisting of plastic (37% on average), the substance’s harmful ecological effects have been difficult to accurately quantify. EA’s report, the first-ever assessment of plastic paint leakage levels worldwide, reveals that, despite paint’s irrefutable protective and decorative qualities, the substance has a significant negative impact on the planet, marine life, and ultimately human health, if it is not disposed of and managed cleanly, safely and sustainably.

Dr. Julien Boucher, founder and director of EA – Environmental Action and author of 11 reports on plastic pollution, comments: “The intention of this research is not to criticise paint, but to increase the level of knowledge and awareness of the issue, so as to pave the way towards a better-managed paint system where paint can deliver its full value without compromising the health of our environment.”

Dr. Paola Paruta, Environmental Analyst at EA – Environmental Action and lead author of the report, adds: “Our report fills a key knowledge gap in the space of microplastic pollution. Our intent is to provide useful information that can enable further research and concrete actions to tackle microplastic leakage, and plastic pollution in general.”

Declan McAdams, chairman of Pinovo, comments: “This report should be a wake-up call for the paint industry and their surface maintenance customers. Action from national and transnational regulators is needed immediately, so those working with paint reconsider their paint application, maintenance and end-of-life treatment methods. It’s important that the industry finds less harmful and more sustainable alternatives. We need a systemic change in the use and management of paint, now that these findings have shone a light on the extent of the pollution being caused. We warmly welcome the recent decision by the EU Commission to turn their attention to paint as a source of microplastics. This is a big step in the right direction.”

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