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Tires are a major pollutant for the world’s oceans

Concern has been expressed over the past few years about the build up of plastic waste in the oceans, with plastic particles originating from different sources. Over two years ago Digital Journal reported that microbes living on floating pieces of discarded plastic are seriously affecting the ocean ecosystem, with the plastic pollution posing a significant risk to invertebrates, humans and other animals. In 2015 a new estimate suggested that 90 percent of seabirds around the world have eaten plastic. The plastic particles come from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing and industrial processes. A further source is discharge of macerated wastes. Now a new source for the oceanic ‘plastisphere’ has been identified: car tires.

Microplastics from tires and textiles are a bigger source of marine pollution than the breakdown of larger plastic waste in some areas, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than 1 millimeters (or 0.039 of an inch). Microplastics are a significant contributor to the plastic waste found in the oceans, with some 30 percent of plastic released into the oceans per year arising from microplastics. A large quantity of this, the BBC reports, is debris from tire abrasion, with the secondary source being synthetic fabrics.

Evidence that tires feature strongly comes from chemical testing, where high levels of synthetic rubber has been detected. This type of material makes up 60 percent of the rubber used in tires. This based on samples taken from seven different global regions.

According to François Simard, deputy director of International Union for Conservation of Nature’s marine program said the finding has come as a surprise: “microplastics are going everywhere in the sea and into the food chain, let’s close the plastic tap.” The conservation body has called for trough action to curb pollution from tires through stricter controls in relation to processing worn and used tires.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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