The presence of microplastics is evident in almost all open water bodies in Germany. The environmental authorities of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, carried out a pilot study to examine 25 rivers in southern and western Germany: plastic was found in every single sample and 99% of the detected particles had a diameter of less than five millimeters. Plastic fibers were found in almost all detection points and foils, beads and pellets were found in small quantities or in single detection points.
The largest percentage (60%) of particles found in waters or beaches comes from plastic packaging. About 10% of the particles consisted of foams of insulating materials; in sand samples, 50% of the particles were foams. Investigations revealed the presence of plastic cellulose acetate, commonly used to produce cigarette filters. Industrially produced microplastics, such as polyethylene (PE) beads, used in personal care products, were only a small fraction of the total number of microplastics.
The local authorities of the German lake regions are finally aware of the microplastics issue in inland waters, but citizens still do not perceive the seriousness of the problem. A survey (Naturbewusstseinsstudie in 2017) conducted by the German Ministry of the Environment (BMU) accurately sums up the current situation: plastic waste is among the most perceived waste as sources of danger primarily in the seas; 78% of respondents see microplastics as a “very big problem”; another 18% as a “big problem”. But not all aspects of the problem related to plastic are still fully perceived by the population: microplastics, as well as radioactive waste or high levels of fertilisers in wastewater, are often not perceived as a direct risk. As such, concludes the BMU, it is necessary to increase the awareness of the populations.