Microplastics have been leaking out into the environment by the millions from a manufacturing site in Stenungsund. But, far from just affecting the immediate area, these tiny plastic pellets have spread all over the coastal region.
This was what a team of researchers from Gothenburg University uncovered over the course of several studies. As Martin Hassellöv, a professor at the Department of Marine Sciences, explained: “In order to better understand how plastic pellets end up in the environment, we have documented, measured and calculated the flows of the pellets via waterways leading out from the production and distribution plants in Stenungsund where approximately five percent of the polyethene [sic] that is used in Europe is produced.”
Although a modest Swedish locality, Stenungsund is known for holding the country’s largest plastics and chemistry cluster. About five percent of the polyethene used in Europe is believed to originate from Stenungsund.
As such, the constant leakage from the Stenungsund manufacturing site has been estimated to number roughly three to 36 million pellets a year. If the fragments and fluff, which are even smaller plastic particles, were to be taken into consideration, however, then the leakage would be much greater than that. (Related: Do you have plastic in your gut? You might, if you drink water from the tap.)
“When we analyzed the smaller fractions, which are called fluff and fragment, the plastic leakage was more than a hundred times greater than when we only counted the pellets,” explained Therese Karlsson, a co-researchers of Hassellöv, who then added: “Moreover, we have seen that there are more leakage problems in conjunction with the transport, cleaning, loading and storing of pellets further along the production chain.”