Empa researchers have developed a model that can calculate the concentration of microplastics in Swiss water bodies. Annually, 14,000 tons of plastic enter Swiss soils and water, with a portion existing as microplastics. These particles, smaller than five millimeters, come from various sources such as cosmetics and synthetic clothing fibers, as well as the abrasion and degradation of larger plastic items.
Microplastics easily enter water bodies due to their small size, with around 15 tons ending up in Swiss rivers and lakes each year. However, measuring microplastic concentrations accurately is challenging. To address this, the researchers created a model based on a 2020 study that identifies the release of seven common plastics into the environment.
According to the model, approximately half of the microplastics remain in the country, with one-third accumulating in lakes and the rest in rivers. Pollution levels are higher downstream from major cities, with the Rhine River near Basel containing the highest concentration. The researchers aim to calculate microplastic pollution nationwide and assess the effects of behavioral changes or government actions.
The model’s findings were published in the journal “Nature Water.” It can also be applied to other countries and regions. Future work will focus on predicting macroplastic presence, such as PET bottles and plastic bags, in water bodies. These efforts contribute to raising awareness and addressing the critical issue of plastic pollution.