We establish an international research centre on microplastics

Invisible microplastics are everywhere - in the air you breathe, the water you drink and in the food you eat. Microplastics are a growing problem, but still we do not know much about the environmental levels (amounts) and the consequences of exposure. This is to be researched by NORCE's newly established microplastics centre.

The North Atlantic Microplastic Centre, led by NORCE, aims to bring together internationally leading researchers to, as quickly as possible, increase competence levels and gain a better understanding of the quantities and risks of microplastics.

The problem of plastic pollution is globally visible, especially along coastlines where the plastics accumulate. With time the plastics degrade into very small pieces called microplastics, defined as plastics under 5mm (down to 1/1000 mm and even smaller nanoplastics). The smallest microplastics are invisible, and quantities increase in parallel with the increased production and use of plastic. Where the microplastics end up, and their impact on the environment and people is poorly known even after several years of trying to map the problem. Since detecting microplastics in the environment is challenging it is also difficult to tell what potential dangers it poses.

- We are used to handling dietary advice on well known environmental contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, but currently we do not know enough to advice on the content of microplastics in food. In a future with increased microplastics levels, we will face a growing demand for documentation from consumers, food manufacturers and importers. With this research centre, we will work on developing methods and competence, to lay the foundations for safe and secure knowledge, says the Head of the centre, Marte Haave, ecotoxicologist and senior researcher at NORCE.

Startup fundings from Sparebanken Vest Foundation

Good methods of analysis are crucial to moving forward, and now, with the funding from the Sparebanken Vest Foundation "Agenda Vestlandet", the international research team has the leeway to get started and over time to work focused with the topic.

Sparebanken Vest contributes with funding for the start-up and a three-year commitment that will enable a rapid establishment of a professional foundation for understanding the microplastics problem. The centre will include about 30 international experts to develop and share their competence. The goal is to gradually attract more partners and accelerate development in the right direction during these three years.

- The contribution from Sparebanken Vest is crucial to create the boost in the knowledge,the research capacity and the deeper understanding of the problem. Microplastic is a global problem where governments and industry don’t have the necessary knowledge to take good and scientifically based decisions. Through the establishment of the North Atlantic Microplastic Centre, we will, together with the best knowledge communities nationally as well as internationally, mobilize for joint efforts and pioneering research for long term solutions, says Hans Kleivdal, Executive Vice President, of NORCE and board leader of The Norwegian Microplastic Centre.

Important research for Western Norway

The purpose of the Sparebanken Vest Foundation Agenda Vestlandet is to promote sustainable projects that will contribute to business restructuring and development in Western Norway. The establishment of the research centre is part of the funds allocated to projects within the foundation's two main initiatives; «Sustainable Sea» and «Green Conversion».

- This centre will provide cutting-edge international environmental research. We want to support knowledge and research activities that can contribute to building a knowledge base that is so important for solving the global plastic problem. Further, this centre will draw world-leading expertise to Western Norway. The centre’s research will be of great importance in solving the plastic challenges in general, and in the Western Norway, specifically concerning the sea. Competence and research will be an important source of knowledge for several sea-based businesses and organizations in Western Norway working on the plastic problem, says Siren Sundland, Chairman of Agenda Vestlandet and Executive Vice President of Sparebanken Vest.