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Plastic Paints the Environment

9th FEBRUARY 2022

Authors: Paola Paruta, Margherita Pucino, Julien Boucher*

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This report provides a global assessment of the level of plastic paint leakage worldwide.


It is based on the baseline year 2019 with a global paint demand of 52 Mt, that included 19.5 Mt of plastics and distributed across different sectors: Architectural, Marine, Road Marking, General Industrial, Automotive and Industrial Wood and Others.

" I’m really thrilled that EA did this analysis and that paint particles will be more recognized at a global scale. We see them all the time in our water samples."


Dr. Chelsea Rochmann,

 University of  Toronto

Key Messages

Paint is in large part made of plastic polymers (on average 37%).

Leakage of paint to the environment occurs during Application, Wear & Tear and maintenance (micro-leakage), or it can be associated with the End-of-Life of the painted object (macro-leakage).

The global contribution of Paint to plastic leakage has been largely overlooked so far. The total leakage from the paint is estimated in the range 5.2 – 9.8 Mt/year (with 7.4 Mt/year as central value).

Paint appears as the largest source of microplastic leakage into the Ocean & Waterways (1.9 Mt/year), outweighing all other sources of microplastic leakage (e.g. textiles fibres and tyre dust).

Speaking from decades of experience in the field of microplastic pollution and its impact on the environment I can see the importance of the EA report about plastic in paint. Over recent years, the world has really woken up to the global threat posed by marine litter and studies like this are essential  to deepen our understanding of  the potential threats that microplastic pose and the relative importance of their various sources including paint.  "


Prof. Richard Thompson, University of Plymouth"

Watch the video

I warmly welcome EA’s new research, and hope their important findings on the scale of microplastic pollution from paint will  motivate paint companies, and their surface maintenance customers, to implement solutions for ocean health and biodiversity."


Nina Jensen,

CEO of REV Ocean

We at NORSUS have noted with great interest the EA report highlighting the importance of Paint as a source of Microplastic pollution in the environment.  We hope that the findings will lead to further research, including water sampling, and also on the human and ecosystem health consequences of this Paint Microplastic Leakage."


Dr. Cecilia Askham,

Senior Researcher, 


Press Release

Study Reveals Paint Is The Largest Source Of Microplastics In The Ocean 



The first-ever global study of paint-related microplastics in the world’s ocean reveals that three million tonnes is leaked every year, more than textiles, tyres, or pellets


A report released today by EA – Environmental Action, a Swiss-based scientific research firm of world-renowned experts on plastic pollution footprinting, reveals that paint is the largest source of microplastic leakage into the world’s Ocean.

"“The intention of this research is not to criticise paint, but to increase the level of knowledge and awareness of the issue, so as to pave the way towards a better-managed paint system where paint can deliver its full value without compromising the health of our environment.” Dr. Julien Boucher.


In our Breaking the Plastic Wave report, we recognized microplastics as a sizeable and growing contribution to ocean plastic pollution. The valuable EA research on paint microplastic suggests microplastic pollutants are an even bigger contributor. We must not delay putting in place the solutions we have and working on further solutions."

Dr. Winnie Lau,

The Pew Charitable Trust

As we strive for a future with no plastic in nature, our understanding of the impact and sources of plastic pollution continues to evolve. This timely report highlights paint as a significant but previously unrecognised contributor to the plastic pollution problem which needs to be considered for new policy standards and waste management approaches."

John Duncan,

Initiative Lead, No Plastics in Nature Markets,


At NORCE, we follow with strong interest the new EA report highlighting the importance of paint fragments as a source of Microplastic pollution.  This confirms what we have observed in environmental samples collected in the Bergen urban area."

Dr. Alessio Gomiero,


In the light of the work done with IUCN and UNEP on the "National Guidance for Plastic Pollution Hotspotting and Shaping Action" I am happy to see that the EA team is providing this valuable piece of research to pave the way to a better understanding of another source of marine plastic pollution: paint. It is important that plastic leakage status, targets and actions are assessed and interventions implemented for paint as well."

Lynn Sorrentino,

IUCN - Ocean Unit

This report lays bare yet another way in which plastics pervade our lives and ultimately, our ocean. The impact of paint – which contains plastic polymers and is applied to everything from boats to bridges to buildings – as a vector of microplastic pollution has previously been wildly underestimated. This has troubling implications for both ocean and human health, as microplastics have been found in 60% of  fish studied globally and there is increasing evidence that these small particles can circulate throughout our bodies and damage our tissues.


The takeaway from this report is clear: we need to act on microplastic pollution, and we need to act now. We hope that this report spurs broad-scale action on this issue, from private sector investment in new materials and methods for capturing paint microplastics at their source, to additional research into the impact of microplastics on our environment. Ocean Conservancy stands ready and eager to help make this a reality."

Dr. Britta Baechler,

Senior Manager of Ocean Plastics Research ,

Ocean Conservancy

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