PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Plastic starts and ends its life as microplastic


Plastic in the form of tiny particles (less than 5mm in diameter) are a widespread and growing pollutant in the environment. Plastic doesn’t break down, it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastic.  All plastic littered in the sea will eventually end up in microplastic form. Some marine plastic called ‘primary microplastic’, enters the environment pre-formed in tiny pieces, from the powder-like microbeads used in cosmetics, to the chocolate-chip sized nurdles used to make most plastic products.

Microplastic meals

A growing number of studies show us that many different animals ingest microplastic, including those species that are at the base of our food chain, the animals we eat as food, and as a result, us humans.

A chemical cocktail

Our understanding of microplastic impacts in our ecosystems and bodies is still young. “Plastic” is not just one material, there are many different types of plastic and each plastic is a mixture of  chemical compounds. These chemicals might be contaminants in the oil used to make plastic or additives to make the plastic more useable.  Plastics in the ocean can also carry  pollutants adsorbed to the microplastic’s surface. A growing number of scientific studies aim to map out potential interactions of these particles and associated chemicals in our environment, and in the organs and bloodstreams of species that are exposed to them.

Impacting our ecosystems

Studies show that microfibres can reduce feeding habits of zooplankton [1], impact reproduction of oysters [2], and increase the chemical load of fish [3]. Larger microplastic particles such as nurdles have been found in seabirds’ stomachs [4], with the potential to lead to reduced feeding, and in extreme cases, starvation [5].

Although our understanding is still growing, we know that we need to act now to reduce the amount of microplastic building in our environment. Microplastic doesn’t need to be entering the environment at all, and there are a host of ways to stop this plastic becoming litter in the first place.

How we are tackling microplastic pollution


Fidra addresses microplastic pollution from artificial pitches, nurdles and sewage related litter. We have also supported a programme of work at Fauna & Flora International focusing on microplastic pollution.

We keep up to date with scientific research, and are members of the Scottish Microplastics Research Group within the MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland). We also sit on the Scottish Government Marine Litter Strategy Steering Group, which allows us to share our knowledge of the subject with decision makers. We regularly contribute expertise on the issue to relevant consultation responses and inquiries. You can find relevant public responses at the bottom of this page.

Artificial sports pitches can be a source of microplastic pollution, particularly from the loss of rubber crumb used as a ‘performance infill’ to provide optimum playing conditions and to reduce injury. Together with KIMO International, we have developed best practice guidelines that help to reduce microplastic loss from pitches, from design to disposal.

Nurdles are microplastic granules used by industry to make new plastic products. Accidental spillage can happen wherever they are handled, so this preventable pollution represents a loss even before plastic has become a consumer product. We are working to raise awareness with the public, industry and decision makers, to find a solution to this problem at source and stop new nurdles entering our seas.

The Fidra Trustees have supported a programme of work at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) since2012, which recognises the potential impact of microplastic pollution on marine biodiversity.

FFI has developed strong links with researchers, NGOs, industry representatives and regulators on a wide number of microplastic issues and has worked to address a number of direct sources of microplastics.

FFI has been at the forefront of efforts in the UK (and beyond) to halt the use of microplastic ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries, and created the Good Scrub Guide – subsequently in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society – to help raise consumer awareness and give people an easy way to take positive action. In addition, a Good Scrub Guide Australia has also been produced and the project has supported the development of a mobile App, Beat the MicroBead developed in partnership with the Plastic Soup Foundation.  The Good Scrub Guide provided FFI with a vital platform from which to engage with businesses and governments. As a result, world-leading legislation has been introduced by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, with broader restrictions on microbeads and other microplastics intentionally added to products being considered under the EU-level REACH legislation in 2019.

FFI have also undertaken significant research to understand pre-production plastic pellet pollution, building relationships with plastics industry representatives and policy makers to work towards sustainable solutions.

© W. Burner