Institute of Rural Studies

Deputy Director


Anja Herkner

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Institute of Rural Economics

Deputy Director

  • NN

Microplastic in the environment – Analyses of the Weser catchment


Various microplastic particles under the microscope (c) Martin Löder
Verschiedene Mikroplastik-Partikel unter dem Mikroskop (© Martin Löder)

PLAWES - Microplastic contamination in the model system Weser – Wadden Sea National Park: An approach across ecosystems


To date, small plastic particles are being found world-wide in oceans, rivers and lakes. However, knowledge is still scarce about their origins and impact on the environment and organisms, including human beings.

Background and Objective

To successfully mitigate microplastics (plastic particles of less than 5 mm size) in the oceans, we first need to improve the knowledge about contamination sources and sinks. From where do microplastic particles enter surface waters and oceans? How much is transported and how much is deposited in rivers and lakes? In this joint project funded by the BMBF, an interdisciplinary consortium is approaching those questions. The goal is to assess the microplastic contamination across ecosystems and to analyse its toxicity of for biota. Moreover, educational materials will be developed to increase public awareness of the plastic litter problem. The Thünen-Institute of Rural Studies is involved in a sub-project that aims at estimating the input pathways and quantities from agriculture.


The study area includes the Weser catchment and Wadden Sea National Park. To better understand transport processes, samples will be drawn from all rivers of the watershed. In our sub-project, the first step is a land use analysis to identify areas of potential sources for microplastics due to their land use history and geophysical properties. Statistic data as well as expert information, amongst others, will be used as sources for this analysis.

Microplastic concentrations in sewage sludge and compost are derived from literature data and from measurements carried out in the project. The modelling approach provides the expected microplastic concentrations in soils originating from agricultural use only. Other sources, such as improper disposal (littering) and tyre wear, are not considered in this model.

Then, we will analyse selected soil samples from the Weser catchment area on their microplastic amounts and characteristics. The results serve to put the model outcome into context and to gain information about the relevance of non-agricultural sources.

The spatially explicit results will then enter a hydrogeological model that quantifies pathways into surface waters.


The work in PLAWES is conducted in direct cooperation with the partner project MicroCatch_Balt.

Our Research Questions

What are the relevant sources and sinks of microplastic in agriculture?

How does microplastic find its way from cropland into surface water, and are the amounts relevant for marine microplastic contamination?


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    (national, öffentlich)


9.2017 - 4.2021

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: finished

Publications to the project

hits: 2

  1. Brandes E, Henseler M, Kreins P (2021) Identifying hot-spots for microplastic contamination in agricultural soils - a spatial modelling approach for Germany. Environ Res Lett 16(10):104041, DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/ac21e6
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 1475 kb
  2. Brandes E (2020) Die Rolle der Landwirtschaft bei der (Mikro-)Plastik-Belastung in Böden und Oberflächengewässern. Mitt Fachgruppe Umweltchemie Ökotoxikol Gesellsch Dt Chemiker 26(4):111-114