How much do brakes contribute to microplastic pollution?

New studies show that plastics from vehicle brakes and tires contribute greatly to microplastics pollution globally. A team of researches studied hundreds of particles near roadways to discover that an alarming amount of waste comes from cars. 

Here's a look at the findings and what experts are suggesting for solutions.

Research findings
When you drive a car, the tires break down slowly over time, as do brakes and roadways. The particles released in the process end up polluting the environment in the form of microplastics, the well-known perpetrator of ocean pollution that continues to build.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, which was funded by the Federal Highway Research Institute and the German Meteorological Service, found this year that particles released from brakes and tires contribute to environmental impact and even health risks. The research was headed by Reto Giere, professor and chair in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science within Penn's School of Arts and Sciences, Inverse reported.

The research team gathered particles over a year from a German roadway, and found that 89 percent of air particles they tested were from this process of tires expelling rubber on the roads or from normal wear-and-tear of brakes. The conclusion was that over 30 percent of global microplastics that end up in oceans are from tires. These particles in water and in the air can cause health issues if ingested, as well as problems for natural ecosystems.

Pollution from brakes and tires can make its way to waterways.Pollution from brakes and tires can make its way to waterways.

Just as microplastics never fully disintegrate into the ocean yet are invisible, invasive particles on roadways are hard to see. Microplastics are particles that are less than five millimeters long, the National Ocean Service says.

PennToday reported that tires and brake pads are composed of zinc, lead, antimony, silicates, cadmium and asbestos, though manufacturers don't disclose all of their products' contents. 

Those researching these particles said they believe these microplastic deposits then wash into waterways and contribute to water pollution globally. These findings were revealed at Geological Society of America's annual conference in Indianapolis.

What can be done?
Even with the push for electric cars that won't have such detrimental CO2 emissions, these small brake and tire particles won't lessen. One thing that could help would be for the masses to recognize that car pollution doesn't all originate from the exhaust. 

Furthermore, ocean pollution isn't all from dumping or fishing nets. EcoWatch said recently that about 80 per cent of ocean microplastic contamination originates from land, though natural disasters such as tsunamis can also greatly contribute to this pollution. At the top of the list of sources is vehicle tire dust, accounting for 270,000 metric tons of debris in waterways each year.

The team from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that reducing the amount cars are braking on average could actually cut the microplastic pollution, at least somewhat. This is because when cars stop and start every few minutes, there are more moments when particles are released at higher rates.

Lead researcher Giere suggests redesigning traffic flow accordingly. For instance, traffic and roadway designers could make the speed limit 5 MPH to avoid lots of stop-and-go traffic.

It may take time to implement such changes, but revealing this research could be an eye-opening first step. These numbers show the harm brakes and tires can do to the environment just by operating normally.

Brake regulations change all the time because of new findings. To ensure brakes and related components are manufactured up to exacting standards, request a complimentary brake testing consultation from Greening.