Our oceans, coast, and possibly human health are threatened by plastic. Global plastic production in 2018 was as much as 359 million tonnes, and an estimate says that around 8-12 million tonnes end up in the sea every year. If nothing is done, a doubling is expected within the next 20 years.

The coast is Western Norway’s and Norway’s most important arena for value creation, both now and in the future, but the West Coast is particularly exposed to marine plastic waste from ocean currents, and has up to eight times more waste than the global average (8 tonnes/km). Surveys show that aquaculture and fisheries account for the largest volume, while the highest number of waste items come from private households. Plastic littering poses a threat to both value creation and the environment, food production, tourism, recreation and health in humans and animals. Few environmental issues create more popular engagement than plastic issues. At the same time, this area of knowledge is relatively new, and there is little comprehensive knowledge about the scope, effects and possible measures.

Today, plastic is not defined as an environmental contaminant and does not fall under the regulations for documentation of release, pollution control or mitigation. This means that the Research Council of Norway (NFR) does not prioritize plastic research through traditional programs for environmental impact. Lack of public funding delays the development of methods and knowledge, which means that the authorities and the business community are without solid, professionally based support and thus delays the transition to a responsible and efficient handling of the problem and the transition to a more sustainable society.

Research in this area is therefore fragmented, the analytical methods are poorly developed, and we have too little reliable knowledge about the spread, quantities, sources, consequences and hazards of microplastics. We also do not know what nature, animals or humans can tolerate and scientific evaluations are therefore not able to make proper risk assessments. However, after a decade of increasing international research efforts, we have evidence that micro- and nanoplastics are spread globally, taken up in tissues and can cause injuries and mortality, but – as it is pointed out by expert groups – better documentation is needed.

Increased international focus on climate and environmental measures, such as the EU’s New Green Deal, will push forward environmental requirements and regulations that the Norwegian authorities and business actors must comply with. It is also expected that both the EU (Marine Stategy Framework Directive) and Norway’s Water Framework Directive in the near future will include monitoring of (micro)plastic. Thus the analytical methods must be in place to meet the requirements. Authorities and businesses now lack methods as well as knowledge to deal efficiently with the problem. Therefore, the development of a solid knowledge- and decision base is crucial to meet the predicted stricter documentation requirementsIn order to be able to implement the correct and most efficient and effective measures to deal with the problem locally, nationally and globally, we need to understand the problem through solid, research-based and comprehensive knowledge building. Therefore, we want to establish the NorthAtlantic Microplastic Centre in Bergen to improve analysis methods, map the scope and effects to build a comprehensive knowledge base that can support Norwegian administration and business. A solid knowledge and decision base will enable the Norwegian authorities to handle the problem responsibly, at the same time it will be crucial for Norwegian players to be competitive in a future market with stricter environmental requirements.NAMC will mobilize for extensive collaboration between research actors, authorities and the business community on relevant and specific issues, based on five capacity and knowledge-building pillars:

  1. Develop sensitive analysis methods to be able to determine low concentrations and the smallest particles (micro to nano-scale) in all kinds of environmental samples and biological material, on a par with other environmental contaminants.
  2. Map the quantities, distribution and fate of microplastics in the environment, along the Norwegian coast, and in our most important international waters (North Sea, Barents Sea).
  3. Map human exposure to microplastics through air, water and food, and model future exposure scenarios for microplastics.
  4. Study the effects of microplastics in humans and the environment, as a basis for risk assessments for authorities, administration and business.
  5. Compile a comprehensive knowledge base, as support for the design of effective measures for the authorities, administration and business.

The start-up of NAMC with activities shows a funding need of over 25-30 million in the first 3 years, but will gradually attract other funding through public research funding and development projects with the business community. The contribution from Agenda Vestlandet is therefore crucial for a rapid increase in knowledge and capacity through NAMC, by mobilizing the best knowledge environment nationally and internationally for joint efforts in pioneering research. NORCE is a leader in plastics research in Norway, and has extensive collaboration within academia, administration,business and Non-profit organizations, in addition to a large international professional network.

The North Atlantic Microplastic Centre will thus have great significance for the topic – where Western Norway and Bergen’s heavy marine environment are a central part of the solution. This will help to strengthen Western Norway as a world-leading sea region and strengthen Bergen as Norway’s Ocean capital.

Partners: NORCE (coordinator), SINTEF, NIVA, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Website: www.namc.no

Start: October 2020

End: October 2023

Funding agency: Sparebanken Vest Foundation

Budget: EUR 2 mio