TYRE-LOSS:  Lost at Sea – where are all the tyre particles?

The underestimated microplastic

330 billion road miles are driven in the UK every year, generating particles of synthetic rubber as a consequence of friction between the tyre and the road surface. It has been estimated that tyre wear could account for 65% (18,000 tonnes annually) of all microplastics released to UK surface waters, however their fate and impact remains largely unknown. Tyre particles are not currently well documented in environmental data potentially due to the difficulty in identifying them from other plastics in environmental samples.

The number of road vehicles is set to double by 2050 leading to increased particle emissions; however, there are interventions that could reduce the rate of tyre particle generation.


The project

Led by the University of Plymouth TYRE-LOSS brings together leading academics with the University of Exeter and Newcastle, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and an Advisory Group comprising 14 organisations including policy makers, tyre, automobile, plastics and water industries as well as academia and environmental charities.

This project builds on its predecessor, in which our researchers used an approach to demonstrate that substantial quantities of tyre particles are indeed entering the sea via storm water, waste water and from airborne dust. TYRE-LOSS will expand on this success to measure tyre particle concentrations at their points of entry to the marine environment and then describe their subsequent transport in the water column.

We will measure concentrations in the water, sediment and marine life at increasing distances from the places where these particles enter the sea and construct and validate mathematical models to describe the dispersal of tyre particles in inshore waters. This information will then be used establish the potential for any associated risks to marine life at environmentally relevant concentrations.

As well as uniting some of the world’s leading experts in microplastics, environmental chemistry, coastal dynamics and ecotoxicology, the project is being supported by an advisory group including policy makers, representatives of the tyre, automobile, plastics and water industries, and environmental charities.


Press release: Project aims to reveal the fate of tyre particles in the marine environment

“Over many years, we have demonstrated that the sources and impacts of microplastics are incredibly varied and complex. In comparison to other sources, relatively little is still known about the precise quantities of tyre particles in the marine environment and the effects they have once there.

“This project is important to further our understanding, and brings together partners with whom we have worked previously on ground-breaking research into the causes and effects of marine litter. The advisory group also ensures that our evidence can be used to help guide solutions as it is only by working in tandem with industry and policy makers that we can truly address the global crisis of plastic pollution.”

Professor Richard Thompson

Professor Richard Thompson

Partner organisations and collaborators

  • University of Exeter
  • University of Newcastle
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory

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