Environmentalist: Every day we send billions of plastic particles to Germany and North Sea

On the eve of World Water Day, which falls on March 22, the Czech branch of the environmental organisation Greenpeace published an alarming report on the presence of micro-plastics in Czech rivers. According to the study, plastic fibres were found in all ten samples taken from the Vltava and Elbe Rivers. I asked Jan Freidinger of Greenpeace for more details:

Photo: © Will Rose / GreenpeacePhoto: © Will Rose / Greenpeace “In September 2018 we took 10 samples of surface water from different locations on the Labe-Vltava water system. We took six samples in Prague and in Ústí nad Labem and one sample in Hřensko where the Labe crosses the Czech border to Germany.

“All the samples were sent to the Greenpeace research laboratories at the University of Exeter for analysis for the presence of micro-plastics and fibres.”

How serious is the situation? Would you say that the results are alarming?

“Definitely. What is actually really alarming is the fact that we found micro-plastics in ten out of ten samples. That illustrates the widespread nature of these contaminants.

“The average concentration of 3.7 particles per litre may sound like a low level of contamination. But considering the overall surface area and the volume flowrate of the Vltava-Labe rivers system, we can say can say that even a small number per litre can add up to high cumulative micro-plastic load flowing down stream.

“For example the flow rate in Hřensko on the border with Germany is around 380,000 litres per second. That means that every day we are sending tens of billions of plastic particles to Germany and to the North Sea.”

Based on this survey, do you expect the situation is more or less the same also in other Czech rivers?

“I think it is. Especially in rivers which flow through or near urban areas the concentration will be more or less the same. And this assumption is also based on other studies carried out around the globe.

Elbe in Hřensko, photo: Jens Jäpel, CC BY-SA 3.0 UnportedElbe in Hřensko, photo: Jens Jäpel, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported “So I think that we can say that it is almost impossible to find a river flowing near urban areas which is free of micro-plastics.”

What are the most common sources of micro-plastics and what can be done to reduce their concentration in water?

“We can divide micro-plastics in two main groups: the so-called primary and secondary micro-plastics. We were looking for the primary ones. According to scientific knowledge there are three main sources of these: microbeads from cosmetics, shedding of car and truck tires and shedding of synthetic textiles during washing.

“To reduce the amount of micro-plastics, people should first of all reduce consumption of single-use plastics. They should avoid any cosmetics with micro-beads and also adjust the way they wash synthetic textiles.

“People can find more information about how to eliminate the shedding of micro-plastics on our website plast je past.”