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Key messages

  • Main sources of microplastics in the environment are tire wear, fragments from plastic waste, and textile fibers. 
  • To prevent microplastics pollution, measures against the leakage of plastic waste into the environment are highly efficient and thus need to be prioritized. 
  • BASF supports the goal to reduce microplastics emissions, including marine littering and engages, among others, in the Alliance to End Plastics Waste, Operation Clean Sweep® and recycling of plastic waste. 

About the topic

Microplastics is the term for solid, water-insoluble synthetic polymer particles of less than 5mm in size. Liquid or soluble polymers are not considered microplastic. Neither are they “liquid plastics,” as sometimes claimed in media. Microplastics were found in many environmental compartments. The primary source of the so-called “secondary microplastics” in the environment is fragmentation/ abrasion of larger plastic items, e.g., plastic bags, textiles, fishing gear, tire. A much smaller fraction is “primary microplastics” comprising plastic pellets or microbeads intentionally added to products to perform a certain function. It is assumed that microplastic particles are persistent and will accumulate over time, eventually posing a risk to humans and/or the environment. However, data is still scarce. Studies showing effects on organisms usually use very high concentrations of microplastic particles. Under these high dosages, microplastic particles have been shown to exhibit certain hazards by being mistaken for food. Usually, indigestible particles are excreted by organisms. Under current environmental conditions a risk for humans or the environment is not expected by knowledgeable institutions including WHO and SAPEA. Research is ongoing to understand whether microplastics play a significant additional role as a carrier for hazardous substances. Generally, any remaining potential direct hazardous properties of plastics may be driven by the monomers and additives, which are both registered under REACH in Europe and thoroughly evaluated for potential hazards and risk. The EU commission is working on a restriction of intentionally added microplastics (estimated entry into force mid-2022) and announced to also tackle secondary microplastics. Several other countries are also working on microplastics-related regulations. 

What we offer

  • BASF is strongly committed to reduce plastic waste in the environment and is a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), actively supporting the development of the waste management infrastructure, innovation in new technologies, education and engagement to mobilize action, and clean-up of concentrated areas of plastic waste in the environment. 
  • BASF actively implements Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) with the aim to reduce the loss of plastic pellets along the complete plastics value chain. 
  • BASF commercializes materials to prevent the formation of persistent microplastics in specific applications such as thin soilbiodegradable mulch film or certified compostable materials for applications contaminating the organic waste stream (e.g., bags and coffee capsules).
  • BASF develops alternatives to microplastics where this is sustainably possible, e.g., using biodegradable polymers.
  • BASF provides different solutions for various recycling technologies to give plastic waste value and divert it from landfills. 
  • BASF engages in a joint research initiative of the International Council of Chemical Association (ICCA), comprising ACC, cefic, JCI, and PlasticsEurope, to provide a sound methodology and a rigorous data base for risk assessment of microplastics. 

What we ask for

  • As the main source of microplastics in the environment is fragmentation of larger plastics, measures to prevent plastic waste accumulation and littering are also highly effective to reduce microplastics.
  • Any regulation on microplastics must allow for the development of innovative alternatives, e.g., by setting realistic hurdles for biodegradability and by unambiguously identifying only those materials that contribute to the microplastics concern. As with all substances, microplastics should be regulated based on risk and benefit evaluations. 

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