European flag
January 2019

A scientific perspective on microplastics in nature and society

The best available evidence suggests that microplastics and nanoplastics do not pose a widespread risk to humans or the environment, except in small pockets. But that evidence is limited, and the situation could change if pollution continues at the current rate.

Our advice comprehensively examines the best available evidence from the natural sciences and computer modelling, as well as social, political and behavioural sciences.

Our key conclusions are:

  • Microplastics -- tiny particles under 5mm in length -- are already present across air, soil and sediment, freshwaters, seas and oceans, plants and animals, and in several components of the human diet.
  • These particles come from a variety of sources, including plastic products, textiles, fisheries, agriculture, industry and general waste.
  • In controlled experiments, high concentrations of these particles have been shown to cause physical harm to the environment and living creatures, including inducing inflammation and stress.
  • However, the concentration levels measured in many real-world locations are well below this threshold -- though there are also limitations in the measurement methods currently available.
  • Meanwhile, in other parts of the environment, there is no reliable evidence about the levels or effects of these particles. This is true especially of nanoplastics, which are very difficult to measure and evaluate.

Scientific advice

Delivery date

15 January 2019

Supports EU mission

Restore our ocean and waters

Supports UN sustainable development goals

Good health and wellbeing
Clean water and sanitation
Sustainable cities and communities
Life below water


The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors responds to the request for advice from the European Commission.

Their policy recommendations are based on the best available scientific evidence.

Other scientific outputs

Microplastics SO cover
Bibliographic information
Cite as
European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, (2019). Environmental and health risks of microplastic pollution, Publications Office of the European Union.
The Scientific Opinion is written jointly by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. Former Advisors (‘alumni’) may also contribute.
Portrait of Janusz Bujnicki

Janusz Bujnicki

Portrait of Pearl Dykstra

Pearl Dykstra

Portrait of Elvira Fortunato

Elvira Fortunato

Portrait of Nicole Grobert

Nicole Grobert

Portrait of Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Portrait of Carina Keskitalo

Carina Keskitalo

Portrait of Paul Nurse

Paul Nurse



22 August 2019
SAPEA evidence review helps shape new WHO microplastics report
Today’s report on microplastics in drinking water by the World Health Organisation draws prominently on SAPEA's evidence review report from earlier this year.
6 May 2019
Scientific Opinion on microplastics handed over to Commissioners
EU policy should be broadened to address airborne, freshwater and soil-based microplastic pollution, according to the Scientific Opinion of the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisors. The opinion also discusses how to ensure that measures are politically and socioeconomically feasible, and highlights the need for global cooperation and high-quality scientific exchange on microplastic pollution.
14 February 2019
SAPEA report on microplastics discussed by the G7 Chief Science Advisors
What meaningful and robust scientific advice to government is possible on microplastic pollution based on the current scientific evidence base?


24 June 2021
Communicating microplastics risk: Balancing sensation and reflection
Online event
The workshop for practitioners of science communication will explore a real-life case of how SAPEA communicated the absence of evidence of risk from microplastics to human health after an evidence review report.
16 April to 
17 April 2020
Erasmus Maris days
In-person event
SAPEA report will be presented and discussed at an academic conference in Spain. The event takes place on 16 and 17 April 2020.
14 November 2019
Microplastics event in Finland
At an event on 14 November 2019 in Helsinki, the SAPEA report will be a starting point for the discussion on risks of microplastics to human and the environment, the relationship between research, scientific data and legislation, and the presence of microplastics in Finnish waters.
15 October to 
18 October 2019
The science of microplastics in the world ocean
In-person event
The SAPEA report was presented at this international workshop to formulate next steps in understanding the fate, distribution, impacts, and technology development necessary to push the science.
4 October 2019
Microplastics in nature and society in Slovenia
In-person event
The meeting will be open to a diverse audience from academia and universities, to Slovenian policymakers, NGOs and the private sector.
11 June 2019
EurOCEAN 2019
In-person event with streaming
EurOCEAN is a high-level science-policy conference co-organised by European Marine Board, the European Commission and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.
Uncle SAM

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