Conference on plastic in the environment

Conference on plastic in the environment

11.01.2020

At a conference on plastic and microplastic in the environment, which took place at the Austrian environment agency at the end of November, the delegates were in full agreement as to what is lacking when it comes to gathering of information on this subject, namely comprehensive monitoring with methods that are standardised throughout the EU. To reduce discharges into the environment, the conference concluded, avoidance is key.

The 150 or so stakeholders who came to Vienna for the conference were also agreed that plastics have no place whatsoever in the environment. The speakers highlighted various measures to reduce discharges. Thomas Jakl from the Austrian Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism told the audience about the restriction or banning of the intentional adding of microplastic to products, which is due to come into force in the EU in 2022. Philipp Hohenblum, an expert at the Federal Environment Agency, informed the delegates about aspects of the EU's plastic strategy, in which, alongside the avoidance of waste and littering, the quality of the plastic recyclate was an important factor. Another speaker was Environment Agency expert Bettina Liebmann, who, in October 2018, in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna, furnished analytical proof in a pilot study that microplastic can also now be found in human faeces. She took a look at various studies on the topic of microplastic and criticised the lack of comparability of the data presented in them. She spoke out in favour of uniform sampling and analysis methods as a prerequisite for comprehensive monitoring and valid data evaluation. An expert on risk assessment, Christa Hametner from the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (ABES), was of the same opinion. She pointed out that 90 percent of plastic particles are excreted again after oral intake. The question of whether the remaining 10 percent represents a risk especially for the digestive tract had not so far been answered, she said.  A considerable amount of research work was also needed with regard to the health effects of, for example, inhalation. Until now, both Bettina Liebmann and Christa Hametner assume that the risk for people ingesting microplastic particles is, at most, marginal.

Lisa Kernegger and Lena Steger from the NGO GLOBAL 2000 called among other things for an obligatory deposit on single use and multi-use beverage packs and a general ban on intentionally added microplastic in detergents. Subsequently, Martin Thieme-Hack from the University of Osnabr├╝ck supplied figures on the topic of plastic turf, Environment Agency expert Helmut Frischenschlager called for a differentiated study of bioplastics, and Linda Mauksch from the plastics processing company ALPLA pointed out that the CO2 footprint of a plastic bottle is reduced by 49-90 percent by recycling. Finally, Environment Agency expert Brigitte Karigl presented the status of the circular economy in Austria in 2015. According to this, of the 916,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated annually, around two thirds were used for energy recovery and 250,000 tonnes went for material recycling. Only a small proportion was landfilled. A study on the topic of the sorting and recycling of end-of-life plastics in Austria is due to start in 2020.

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