The widespread presence of microplastics in the environment, including in remote and pristine areas such as mountains and the Arctic, is a source of concern for ecosystems and human health. Due to their small size, microplastics can be easily ingested or inhaled by organisms, potentially leading to adverse health impacts on wildlife and humans. The potential for long-term and irreversible risks to ecosystems and human health calls for mitigation measures to halt the accumulation of plastics and microplastics in the environment.

Plastics pollution captures the attention of scientists, the public, governments and businesses around the world. Although plastic materials bring several benefits to society, growing plastics production, use and disposal are creating ever-greater environmental pressures, among which the accumulation of plastics in natural habitats is arguably the most evident. At current trends in plastics production and waste generation, the problem of plastic pollution will continue to exacerbate. Once plastics enter the environment, they do not easily biodegrade and may continue to pollute natural habitats for centuries. Furthermore, plastics in the environment may fragment into microplastics, smaller plastic particles that may enter the food chain.

OECD countries substantially contribute to microplastics leakage into the environment and have an important role to play in mitigating this type of pollution. Indeed, many governments are now actively working to reduce risks associated with plastics and microplastics pollution, for instance via the regulation of single-use plastics, bans on microbeads intentionally added to products, and improvements in solid waste collection and management.

Microplastics emitted unintentionally during the use phase of products remain largely outside of the scope of policy frameworks existing in OECD countries. This report ambitions to bridge that gap, by focusing on the complex challenges posed by microplastics released from tyres and garments. The report brings together the most recent science and knowledge on the pervasiveness of such particles, their route into the environment, and the potential consequences on environmental and human health. It identifies best practices and technologies that could help mitigate the environmental pressures, and potential policy interventions to mandate or encourage their larger uptake. In line with previous work on contaminants of emerging concern in water, the report highlights opportunities for future policy intervention that builds on new knowledge and new technical capacities, and that cuts across sectors and policy areas.

Policies to reduce microplastics pollution in water: Focus on textiles and tyres has been developed jointly by the Environmental Policy Committee’s Working Party on Biodiversity, Water and Ecosystems and the Working Party on Resource Productivity and Waste. This timely report brings together expertise on waste, resource efficiency and water quality to support government efforts to reduce risks associated with microplastics pollution, and protect the environment and human health.


Rodolfo Lacy,

OECD Environment Director

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