An international team of experts, supported by the World Meteorological Association (WMO), has called for the creation of an observation network after investigating the effect of airborne plastic pollution on the planet’s waters.
The 33-strong team of experts in atmospheric, oceanography and plastic pollution, have come up with a strategy to quantify the trends and future importance on the global and marine plastic cycle in the new perspective published in the Nature Reviews Earth & Environment Journal.
Plastic particles have now been detected in all investigated spheres of the environment including in water bodies, the soil and air, and one global study estimates that by 2040 the level of plastic pollution could reach 80 million metric tonnes per year.
The team, supported by GESMAP, a group of independent scientists and the WMO, estimate that potentially up to 25 million metric tons of micro and nano plastic per year are transported and form part of the atmospheric flux between the air and marine environment.
Microplastics are plastic fragments generally considered to be smaller than five millimetres in length while nanoplastics are smaller than one millionth of a meter.
The work is jointly led by Dr Deonie Allen from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and Dr Steve Allen of Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Canada.
Dr Deonie Allen said: “The atmospheric compartment of the global plastic cycle is important and helps close the loop on the plastic cycle. To quantify the importance, impact and future trends in marine and global micro and nano plastic is it important we start monitoring what is happening in our atmosphere.”
Global research into plastic pollution has highlighted that the wind can carry the particles to some of the most remote corners of the earth even faster than by ocean currents or rivers.
The new paper presents a global strategy to create a cohesive, comparable dataset that will enable the atmospheric micro and nano plastic activity to be monitored.
The proposed strategy will enable not only quantification of the ocean-atmosphere micro and nano plastic flux and therefore the influence on ecosystem and human health, but also illustrate more effective prevention and management of plastic pollution.
The team say that the paper highlights the need to initiate a global micro and nano plastic observation network, operation procedures and globally comparable long-term observation datasets.
Dr Steve Allen said: “We need to start the long-term monitoring of atmospheric micro and nano plastic now so that we get a proper understanding of how much plastic is up there and any effect of policy or waste management is immediately obvious.”