Fighting microplastics in inland waters - EU project "LIFE Blue Lakes" presents results at final conference

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Fighting microplastics in inland waters - EU project "LIFE Blue Lakes" presents results at final conference

After four years, the EU-funded project "LIFE Blue Lakes" to combat microplastics in inland waters presents its results at the final conference in Rome. 98 percent of the water samples taken as part of the project show microplastic pollution. The main polluters include plastic bags, cosmetics, packaging, clothing and tires. Microplastics enter the human body through the food chain, where adverse health effects are likely.

Rome/Radolfzell, 26.09.2023: Today, the conference to present the results of "LIFE Blue Lakes", an Italian-German project funded by the European Commission that aims to prevent and reduce microplastics in lakes, is taking place in Rome. Microplastics are ubiquitous, but how high the actual load is is difficult to quantify. A total of 9,000 plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size have now been collected in the Italian lakes of Bracciano, Trasimeno and Piediluco over a two-year period using a scientific protocol developed as part of the project, and 98 percent of the water samples taken were contaminated. Analysis of these particles revealed that they were mainly polyethylene fragments derived from old plastic bags. Microplastics were also quantified and analyzed in three drinking water treatment plants and two wastewater treatment plants at Lake Garda and Castreccioni in the province of Macerata. Here, between 30 to 90 percent of microplastics are retained, consisting mainly of fragments and fibers of polyester and polypropylene used for technical and sports clothing - a single wash in the washing machine can release up to one million microfibers.

The development of scientific protocols for the sampling and analysis of microplastics in lakes, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants was a key objective of the project, which was achieved and which can provide an important basis for the definition of the health status of inland and marine waters and waters intended for human consumption provided for in the new European regulations.

Another objective of the project, coordinated by the Italian environmental organization Legambiente and implemented in cooperation with the Global Nature Fund (GNF), the Lake Constance Foundation and other partners, was the elaboration of the so-called Lake Paper. In it, 40 riparian communities of the five project lakes (Lake Constance, Lake Chiemsee, Lake Garda, Lake Bracciano, Lake Trasimeno) and about 80 stakeholders, including regional authorities, companies, tour operators and associations, enter into a voluntary commitment to contribute to the reduction of plastic waste: from the improvement of separate waste collection, the maintenance of the lakeshores, to environmental education and investments for the improvement of water treatment plants.

Joint action required from all stakeholders
Another project activity was a lobbying campaign for European cosmetics, outdoor clothing and tire manufacturers. More than 250 companies were informed about the risks of microplastics associated with their products, and 20 showed interest in cooperating. The outdoor clothing industry was the quickest to respond, while the cosmetics industry was hesitant. A new regulation announced by the EU Commission on September 25, 2023, now bans the sale of products that release microplastics, including cosmetics such as scrubs and glitters. The new rules are expected to prevent the release of about half a million tons of microplastics into the environment.

Speaking at the final conference, Giorgio Zampetti, director general of Legambiente, emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary and transboundary collaboration in the fight against microplastics, saying, "Although research on microplastics in inland waters has increased in recent years, there is still much to learn about the distribution dynamics of microplastics in these environments and at the catchment level. It is critical that policy makers:in prioritize further advances in the state of research, including by promoting standardization of measurement methods and international and interdisciplinary collaboration. Only in this way can we prevent the spread of microplastics in lake and river ecosystems. We are at a point in history where understanding how to deal with this type of pollution can occur in parallel with the challenge of stopping the phenomenon, because the current state of knowledge and existing technologies, regulations and tools, however inadequate, allow us to work on prevention and stop microplastic pollution of the environment now."

Udo Gattenlöhner, Executive Director of Global Nature Fund, adds, "LIFE Blue Lakes raises awareness of the value and importance of our water bodies and their ecosystem services by highlighting the risks that micro- and nano-contamination can pose to water bodies and their user groups." Current anthropogenic influences such as warming of our climate, altered nutrient cycling, neobiota, and other effects will have increasingly negative impacts on our terrestrial aquatic ecosystems. It is therefore important to minimize negative impacts on lakes as much as possible and to develop appropriate adaptation strategies to increase the resilience of our valuable waters and their important ecosystem services. This also requires convincing industry, policymakers and regulators of the urgency of better water management."

Launched in 2019 thanks to co-funding from the European Commission's LIFE program, the project grew out of the realization that for several years most research has focused on the impacts of plastics in marine ecosystems, neglecting the role of freshwaters, particularly lakes, which are important water reservoirs but also key receptors for microplastics and pollutants in general. Studies show that every year hundreds of thousands of plastic particles end up in the human body through food, water and the air, where adverse health (endocrine) effects are very likely.

All EU "LIFE Blue Lakes" results at a glance
5 Lakes Charters realized through as many participatory pathways - 13 Italian municipalities and 65 other stakeholders who signed them - 1 Lakes Manifesto - 27 Italian municipalities who signed it - 250 stakeholders involved in the participatory pathway - 250 German and international companies, reached by the information and awareness activities - 20 European companies involved in the advocacy campaign - 4 German companies of the textile and cosmetics industry that signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Voluntary Commitment - 300 professionals and technicians: inside, who were trained in the seminars for the application of the monitoring protocols - 1300 teachers:inside and students:inside, who participated in the educational activities - 1800 participants in the lake days and conferences - 5 international events - 5 LIFE Blue Lakes Ambassadors: 8 Italian regions that participated in the roadshow - 20 artistic-scientific animation events in Italy with 1000 spectators - 22 projects involved in networking activities - 700 articles published in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet highlighting the project, 5 million people were reached through the media work - Over 62. 000 people were reached through the project websites and social media.

Surveys and reports conducted: best practices report - fact sheets for three activity areas - online exhibition for businesses - lake maps - lake paper - technical monitoring protocol for lake water and sediment - technical monitoring protocol for septic and drinking water treatment plants - education package for primary and secondary schools - white paper on lakes - replicability manual - socio-economic impact study.

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