Image by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash
Though, at the macro-scale, the problem of plastics flowing into the world's oceans has been well-documented, until recently, at the nano and micro scale it remained all but unknown. Several seminal papers on the issue having been published this past 24 months has helped raise visibility of the issue. However, much is the work still to be done to raise awareness of the scale and nature of this complex problem across industry, academia, and the public at large. Published on April 6th, 'Insights Report: 2030 | Invisible Ocean Pollutants from our Roads', authored by Dr. David Greenfield and myself, with assistance from researcher Natalie Ibbott and graphic designer Jacob Arney, summarises the scale of the nano and micro plastics pollution caused by tyres, together with some of the ways in which the problem may be addressed in the coming decade and beyond.
The product of several months of research, including an extensive literature review, a roundtable attended by twenty leaders from several STEM fields including toxicology and ecotoxicology, information communications technologies, and science and wider policy, among others, together with a survey and expert interviews, the 40-page report, which was commissioned by SUEZ group, is available open access via a download on their site. In particular, I'd like to thank friends and peers for their invaluable contribution to the research insights, including Dr. Richard Miller, Assoc. Director of Connected Places Catapult and founder of Miller-Klein Associates; Olivier de Matos, General Secretary at the European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicolgy of Chemicals [ECETOC]; Dr. Peter van Manen, Vice President at Living PlanIT; Nuno Silva, Chief Scientific Officer at UnifAI Technology; and Emily Penn, co-founder and leader at eXXpedition.
Extracts from the report
"Tyre Wear Particles (TWP) are the abraded surface of vehicle tyres, between 1nm to 0.5mm, and deposited on the road surface or blown into surrounding environments. TWP comprise a cocktail of natural rubber, synthetic compounds, fillers, antioxidants, antiozonants and curing systems. Due to the mix of materials, they are classed as a microplastic.
The term “Invisible Ocean Pollutant” has been coined because of the physical invisibility of TWP and that few people know TWP are a major source of pollution in the oceans. The conclusion from the research undertaken is that TWP are a major environmental pollutant and this is only starting to become recognised as an issue. Annually between 28% (17,640 tonnes) and 34% (23,120 tonnes) of TWP are entering the UK marine environment. Globally, this is a major environmental concern, where it is currently estimated that up to 1.03 million tonnes of microplastic will be in the oceans by 2030 (if using the UK assumption of 28-34%, 288,400 – 350,200 tonnes of TWP), and more than doubling to over 2.5 million tonnes (700,000 – 850,000 tonnes of TWP) by 2050.
This Insight Report summarises the detailed research and discussion contained within the adjoining Annexes and give recommendations to the resource management sector on some of the potential actions available to address and to mitigate the “Invisible Ocean Pollutants” that are Tyre Wear Particles.
Many factors involved in the design, fabrication, production and maintenance of tyres, vehicles, roads and other transport networks, in combination with shifts in citizen behaviour, will influence the extent to which we are able to mitigate our invisible pollution problems of the present. The five factors are:
1. Design of tyres
2. Design of cars
3. Design of roads and their water management
4. Driving skills and training
5. Improved interception at source
At present, it appears that plastic pollution is not the primary driver of material sourcing and wider innovations in the tyre industry, with the need to address issues including climate change, vehicle efficiency and performance, driver safety and market competitiveness taking clear precedence. However, innovations with an initial intent to address one problem often address others, and several of the latest tyre sourcing, design, production and maintenance concepts recently presented by leaders in the tyre sector have the capacity to help mitigate the problem of invisible plastic pollution.
There needs to be far more awareness among local authorities, real estate developers, industry and governments more generally, of the potential role of drainage and other urban and peri-urban infrastructure in mitigating the invisible pollution problem.
Solutions will need to be approached both from a financial or regulatory incentive perspective and design and life-cycle perspective, as well as involving leaders from governments, the waste, chemical, civil engineering and automotive industries, water treatment, urban infrastructure planning, technology, marine and freshwater biology, and wider environmental science sectors."
Read the report in full here.
Melissa Sterry, PhD, chartered design scientist, systems theorist, biofuturist, and serial founder inc. Bionic City®
Asking the question "how would nature design a city" since 2010.
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