Fighting the pollution of the oceans by micro-plastics

© Philipp Berndt

Close-up on the Ecoseastem project launched by SUEZ.

© Thomas Vieille

A part of the plastic micro-fibres contained in the composition of synthetic clothes are released into wastewater when machine washed (1). Everyday, each inhabitant releases about 200,000 plastic micro-fibres into the wastewater treatment network, a figure that represents 20 billion per day in a conurbation of 100,000 people. While first findings indicate that today, wastewater treatment plants eliminate about 90% of micro-fibres, significant untreated quantities are discharged into the natural and marine ecosystems (2).

These micro-plastics represent a potential threat to aquatic wildlife. They affect the reproduction of oysters and marine molluscs, they are ingested by fish and they carry bacteria and micro-pollutants, impacting even plankton (3). They end up by entering the food chain and can potentially find their way into human nutrition (4).

Launched by SUEZ in 2013 to address this growing issue, the pioneering Ecoseastem project led with the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur, the Expédition MED association and the Villefranche Oceanographic Laboratory has anticipated this problem by starting to research the subject at a very early stage (5). The goal is to improve knowledge on the performance of the existing wastewater treatment plants and of their action on plastic micro-fibres.

In February 2016, SUEZ took things further with Microplastic, an ambitious 3-year research programme with several public and private partners. For the first time ever, it addresses this emerging issue in its entirety, from detection and quantification, modelling dispersion, risks studies on the biota and the ecosystem, to elimination techniques. As part of this programme, SUEZ is testing and developing capture technologies to improve the removal performance, for an optimized protection of our marine ecosystems.


This article was published in the third issue of open_resource magazine: «The oceans, future of the blue planet»


A comment is required