In recent years, microplasticsFootnote1 pollution has captured the attention of citizens, scientists and policy makers. Issues raised by microplastics pollution are complex and span a wide spectrum from environmental sustainability to food security and human health. As is often the case with such emerging, multidimensional issues, the scientific evidence needed to inform policies and actions is complicated, and the current understanding of the hazards and the risks of microplastics is far from complete. Despite this, there is an ongoing need to use the best and latest scientific evidence and knowledge in relevant policy development and to undertake further scientific research needed to fill key knowledge gaps.
With this in mind and following the endorsement of G7 Ministers of Environment, Oceans, and Energy at their meeting in Halifax, Canada on 20 September 2018, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor and the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, convened a Microplastics Meeting on 13 February 2019 in Washington D.C.
The meeting provided an opportunity for Chief Science Advisors and their equivalents (CSAEs) from G7 countries and the EU to cooperate and build a shared understanding of the science available to support policy making in addressing the challenge of microplastics pollution. A report entitled ’A Scientific Perspective on Microplastics in Nature and Society’ has been produced by the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) group for the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors as input to its forthcoming Scientific Opinion. This Evidence Review Report provided a foundational review of current scientific knowledge in the field. CSAEs discussed the assessment in the Evidence Review Report and commented on some gaps and areas requiring further investigation.
Accompanied by leading scientists on microplastics and senior government officials with broad policy responsibilities for microplastics, CSAEs from G7 countries and the EU discussed what the science currently says and does not say about microplastics and what science advice can provide to policy makers.
In addition, CSAEs discussed the international and multidisciplinary dimensions of the microplastic pollution issue. Given the global nature of microplastics pollution, CSAEs noted the lack of standardized methodologies such as quantitative and toxicity assessments. CSAEs also noted the varying access to data on microplastics world-wide.
CSAEs will aim to enhance their understanding of the issue and share information to better inform advice to their respective governments. In terms of their role in providing scientific advice, CSAEs discussed the following elements.
1 - Scientific integrity
Scientific advice should be based on an objective assessment of the range of robust scientific evidence and expert knowledge available on microplastics, drawing on the breadth of reliable research sources, and across all disciplines in a balanced, transparent and accountable manner that is free from interference.
2 - Scientific responsibility
Scientific evidence should be made available in appropriate and accessible forms and in a timely manner so that it can effectively feed into policy development. This should consist of the body of current scientific knowledge and knowledge gaps on the occurrence, fates, impacts, hazards, ecological and health risks of the sources and types of microplastics pollution in all environmental compartments (air, soil and water).
3 - Broader plastics context
Scientific advice on microplastics needs to be considered within the broader context of plastic pollution and alongside other pollutants taking into account geographic variability in incidence and impacts.
Roundtable participants were in broad agreement on the need for standardization and harmonization of research methods to track and assess environmental effects of microplastics pollution. As a follow up to this meeting, and as part of its 2019 G7 presidency, France hosted a workshop in October 2019 on standardized microplastics monitoring.