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Pressrelease | 2023-11-30
Wooden planks in blue and red which are heavily weathered. The colour peels off strongly. The wood can be seen under the paint.

High microplastic emissions from paint

Paint is a significant source of microplastics in Sweden, according to a new report produced by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute on behalf of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. This is the first Swedish study to look specifically at how paint contributes to microplastics, and which sectors account for the largest emissions.

"Most people don’t know that paint is such a large source of microplastics. More knowledge and measures are needed to reduce emissions to the environment", says Sara Brännström, expert in chemistry and legal requirements at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

The paint types with the greatest risk of microplastic emissions are house paint, boat paint including antifouling paint, and surface treatments in industry and vehicle manufacturing.

In the project, the researchers have developed a method for calculating annual emissions of microplastics from paint in Sweden in the construction and marine sectors. It is based, among other things, on figures on the amount of paint sold in Sweden and includes emission factors for different parts of the paint life cycle such as spillage during application, paint flaking during wear and emissions during sanding and repainting. Using the method, the emissions of microplastics from house paint are estimated to be 209 - 3,700 tonnes/year and from boat paint 30-308 tonnes/year (in Sweden).

"The figures are not exact measurements but estimates, but if we compare them to other emission sources, we can still see that paint is a significant source of microplastics", says Sara Brännström.

In the worst-case scenario, microplastics from paint come second, after the emissions caused by car tyres. According to previous studies by IVL, wear and tear from road traffic is the largest source of microplastic emissions in Sweden, totalling around 7,674 tonnes per year.

In the report, the researchers conclude that reducing emissions of microplastics from paint can be more difficult than from other sources. In order to protect the underlying substrate from corrosion and wear, paint must normally meet various technical requirements, and there are often few viable alternatives.

"We can't stop using plastics in paint, because the paint would lose its protective properties, which are necessary for its various applications. However we can change the way we manage the waste, to ensure that, for example, old paint scraped off boats and during façade renovations is collected and disposed of", says Sara Brännström.

Read more and download the report: Microplastic emissions from paint External link, opens in new window.

For more information, contact:
Sara Brännström, sara.brannstrom@ivl.se, tel. +46 (0)10-788 65 12

The report from IVL was commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency's national plastics coordination, within the framework of the collaborative organization SMED – Svenska Miljöemissionsdata. The aim is to learn more about how to reduce emissions of microplastics in an effective way, and to develop methods for calculating emissions from different sources.

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