Plastics in the Environment
Plastics in the environment are a global problem. Despite a range of activities, many questions regarding the distribution pathways of plastics into the environment as well as their impact remain unanswered. Within the framework of its flagship Initiative Green Economy, the BMBF is funding research that adopts a holistic approach to filling these knowledge gaps.
Plastics in the environment are a global problem, a fact made apparent by the increased emergence of plastic waste in the oceans. The G7 state leaders took this as an opportunity to address the issue and, in 2015, decided on a joint plan of action. The G7 ministers of science announced their support and plan to coordinate publically-funded research and development activities in this priority research area.
Despite a range of activities, the fundamental questions have not been answered satisfactorily, for example:
- What is the extent of the problem? How much plastic can be found, and where?
- What are the main sources of the problem? Which are the major entry pathways of plastics into the environment and what causes them?
- What impact does the introduction of plastics have on the environment? How harmful are plastics to living organisms?
With this call, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) aims to develop and establish scientific processes, methods, instruments, and concepts for examining plastic in the environment in order to:
- develop a consistent picture of the overall problem and lay a basis for international action,
- identify, develop, and implement possible solutions together with relevant stakeholders from the fields of politics, business, and civil society,
- found cooperative projects with international partners from important countries of production and consumption with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic that is released into the environment.
This call is part of the flagship initiative Green Economy, within the BMBF-framework programme "Research for Sustainable Development" (FONA³), and expands on work conducted in previous funding measures, e.g.:
- the international funding programme investigating microplastics in the oceans (part of JPI OCEANS),
- the ongoing joint project Microplastics in the Water Cycle-MiWa (part of the funding priority Sustainable Water Management),
- as well as the Social-ecological Junior Research Group working in this area.
Leading up to this call, BMBF invited experts to discuss the systemic approach it envisaged within the funding measure. The results of the BMBF's considerations and those of the discussions have been publicly documented in the background paper "Plastic in the Environment – Sources, Sinks, and Solutions". The major topics and issues to be addressed by research activities in the funding measure are structured into four parts:
- Green Economy: substance flows, value chains, technologies & recycling
- Consumption, consumer behaviour, trade and production, governance
- Pathways, transport, decomposition and retention of plastic in limnic systems,
- Seas and oceans as sinks and spaces where plastic accumulates
Cross-cutting projects that address two or more of the above-mentioned issues may also be funded. In all areas, aspects of participation, communication, information and education can be a major lever for a more effective implementation of innovative measures. In order to access the highest potential, the projects will seek to integrate these individual aspects into their research and development activities.