First survey of microplastics in rivers

Published: 26 March 2014

In the months to come, there will be exploratory investigations to determine the levels of microplastics in four major European rivers. This is the first time Europe has conducted quantitative research looking at microplastics in rivers. Deltares is coordinating the research, which is being conducted on behalf of the European Commission.

Extensive harm to people and animals

Until now, research looking at microplastics (pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm) has focused primarily on the marine environment. Microplastics can easily enter the food chain, harming people and animals. There is an urgent need to tackle the problem. However, some of the microplastics in our seas come from the land. Action will be needed to effectively reduce marine levels.

Making river management authorities more aware of the problem

The survey will generate an initial picture of the amount of microplastics coming from the land. In addition, it will identify possible sources and develop a monitoring system. The researchers hope the results will raise awareness of the problem among the river management authorities and make a positive contribution to the right measures being taken.

Link between microplastics levels and the type of river

Myra van der Meulen of Deltares is involved in the study: ‘The first measurements will take place in the New Waterway in early April. The three other European rivers will follow. Different types of river have been selected to see whether river characteristics play a role in the levels of microplastics present. The rivers vary in terms of characteristics such as the size of the catchment and the catchments also vary in terms of elevation profiles, population centres and industrial areas. The rivers all flow into different European seas, allowing us to sketch an initial picture of microplastics in rivers throughout Europe.’

Identifying hot spots at sea better

Deltares hopes to use the required data for the further development and improvement of its transport models. Myra van der Meulen: ‘As a result, we will be able to make more precise predictions of land-based microplastics input and that means we will have a better idea of where hot spots will be located at sea and how we can make clean-up operations more efficient.’

The study of microplastics in European rivers will be completed in late 2014. Deltares is working with the Slovenian Institute of Water (IWRS) and the British Eunomia Research & Consulting.