IOW Logo

LABPLAS: LABPLAS - Land-Based Solutions for Plastics in the Sea; Plastics in the environment: understanding the sources, transport, distribution and impacts of plastics pollution

01.06.2021 - 31.05.2025
Project coordinated by:
University of Vigo
Project manager (IOW):
Juliana Ivar do Sul
EU - Horizon 2020
Associated Institutions:
University of Corunã
University of Sorbonne

Approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste has been generated to date, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 20501.. There are 5,250 billion plastic particles floating on the surface on the world's seas and oceans, equivalent to 268,940 metric tons of waste. These fragments move with the currents before washing up on beaches, islands, coral atolls or one of the five great ocean gyres. Mismanaged plastic waste ends up in the environment and fragments into microplastics (MP). Because MP cannot be removed form ecosystems, proactive action regarding research on plastic alternatives, and strategies to prevent plastic entering the environment should be taken promptly.

LABPLAS is a comprehensive collective effort of 20 groups from 16 organisations forming a strong consortium, encompassing expertise in pollution, environmental modelling, environmental chemistry, ecotoxicology, oceanography, hydrology, paleoecology, soil ecology, microbiology, water engineering, nanotechnology, economics and knowledge transfer. These experts team up with the aim of providing European authorities with the prenormative knowledge needed to fight plastic pollution on solid scientific grounds. If the concept of a Swiss army knife is applied here, LABPLAS it is an analogous multifaceted tool with well differentiated capabilities to identify the main sources, analyse transport, accumulation and degradation of plastics, diagnose environmental problems posed by plastics, and propose actionable mitigation strategies that can be readily turned into executable solutions. Land-derived plastics reach environmental compartments from multiple sources, where they fragment into increasingly small particles whose bioavailability and impact increases as particle size decreases, with non- monitored small micro and nanoplastics (SMNP) (<100 μm) posing the highest risk.

LABPLAS targets the identification of MP and SMNP sources and their environmental pathways to fulfil a gap in the global literature, in two contrasting case studies; i) urban-industrial Great North Sea including Thames and Elbe basins, and ii) rural but highway-crossed Mero-Barcés basin (NW Iberian Peninsula) with drinking water reservoir, considering both temporal and spatial variation. Terrestrial soils, freshwaters, marine waters, atmospheric particles, sediments, and aquatic biota will be studied using novel techniques from teledetection to nanotechnologies, and providing robust tools and harmonized methodologies for plastic pollution monitoring. Plastics from environmental samples and new-generation plastics will be tested for toxicity and biodegradability in order to produce a scientifically sound risk assessment where risk posed by plastics is quantified as a function of particle size, shape and composition, in particular in terms of chemical additives. Environmental and laboratory data will then feed a suite of environmental models, identifying or predicting sources, transport among compartments, and potential transfer of chemicals to biota, up-scalable to produce a pan-European plastic information system (e-PLAS). The aim of the interacting models is to provide tools for environmental management and plan efficient mitigation actions. In short, LABPLAS will guide regulatory efforts and informed consumers within the current legislative initiatives prompted by the EU Plastics Strategy and the Plastics Directive (EU 2019/904) by providing solid scientific evidence and novel technical developments rather than by misperceptions and false myths on plastic properties.

LABPLAS conceives plastic pollution as a global issue but supports a leading role of the EU and the European industry to solve it. The proposal has a multi-actor approach, creating scientific knowledge with a partnership of scientists, technicians, research organizations and enterprises, working together towards the recognition at different levels (society, industry, policy) of the main issues (sources, potential biodegradability, ecotoxicology, ingestion, environmental assessment) related to the presence of plastics in ecosystems.