Microplastics from Tyre Wear

Tyre wear occurs due to friction with a road surface as a vehicle moves. The friction causes abrasion of the tyre surface, creating particles that are a major contributor to microplastics in our environment. In fact, it is estimated that tyre wear accounts for around 30% of all microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The amount of harmful material being discharged into the environment means that tyres should be treated in the same way as plastic bottles and bags. However, awareness of the scale of the problem is low. And it is an issue which is only set to become worse: as the volume of traffic continues to grow, this form of pollution will increase and become even more problematic.

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microplastics from tyres infographic


Small synthetic compound particles less than five millimetres in size are defined as microplastics. It is widely accepted that the current rate of contamination due to microplastics will have a significant negative impact on the environment over the next century. Therefore, it is vitally important that the amount of material entering the ecosystem from direct sources, such as tyre abrasion, is reduced.


Tyres are composite materials that include a number of synthetic (plastic) polymers made from petroleum, mixed with natural rubber and other additives. More than 50% of modern tyres is made up of artificial rubber. As the tyre wears during use, it breaks down into small fragments. These combine with other particulate material from the road surface, such as road dust and brake abrasion particulates.

Car tyres are expected to cover 40,000 km to 50,000 km during their useful life. Over that time, a tyre will typically lose up to 30% of its total weight, shedding this material into the environment. 90% of the tyre debris is deposited onto the road surface and onto roadside verges to a distance of around 5 metres, with 10% of that debris, the smallest particles, suspended in the air. The airborne particles can be deposited 50 metres or more from the road.


Tyre wear is considered to be a major, if not the largest, source of microplastics responsible for contaminating land and water environments.

Rainfall and storm water runoff transports microplastic particles from tyre abrasion directly from roads into river and open water environments. The environmental quality of rivers may be particularly vulnerable to this type of pollution as they can act as sinks, where the particles settle in sedimentation. This appears to be the case in Europe, where higher levels of microplastics from tyre wear have been found in rivers than in open waters. In the United Kingdom alone, research suggests that 100 million square metres of rivers and 50 million square metres of estuarine and coastal waters are at risk of tyre wear pollution.

The transition to electric cars (e-cars) is unlikely to remedy the situation. While these vehicles will improve air quality by removing harmful particulate matter emitted from exhausts, they are likely to increase environmental contamination from microplastics. The reason for this is that e-cars are heavier than conventional cars, due to the weight of their batteries, and will thus produce more tyre wear through abrasion. As a result, the pollution from microplastics will still increase, as vehicle ownership and use are anticipated to continue to grow.

Role for green infrastructure

Storm water runoff appears to be the main pathway for tyre microplastics to enter the water environment. Emissions of microplastics from tyre wear can be greater in urban environments due to the area of impervious surfaces which facilitate runoff. During heavy rainfall events, runoff carrying particles from the road surface can bypass water treatment plants, passing directly into storm drains and discharging directly into the water environment.

Green verges and swales could help to stop tyre wear particles from entering the drainage system by trapping and retaining such debris at the roadside. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) can be designed to collect and temporarily store runoff, removing the debris by sedimentation and reducing the amount of plastic pollution being discharged into the water system.


Animating the infographic draws the attention of the reader. An animated infographic is easy to share online - through social media, e-newsletters, blogs and on websites - engaging with your audience and helping to get your message across effectively. Animated infographics can also be inserted into Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and Word documents, adding movement and dynamism that captures attention.

In this case, the animation is a simple two-frame sequence that illustrates the movement of the tyre and the creation of debris. The limited colour scheme of black against orange reinforces the stark statistics, underlining the big numbers involved. The design concept uses ‘circles’ - in the animation, the central statistics and the large number at the bottom – to create continuity between the different elements, while also referencing the subject.


Boucher, J. & Friot D. (2017). Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Eunomia Research & Consulting (2019). Understanding Microplastics in the Scottish Environment. Report prepared for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Parker-Jurd et al (2019). Investigating the sources and pathways of synthetic fibre and vehicle tyre wear contamination into the marine environment. Report prepared for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

Sommer et al (2018). Tire Abrasion as a Major Source of Microplastics in the Environment. Aerosol and Air Quality Research, 18: 2014–2028.

This infographic appeared in JONO Design e-news. The e-news is published once every couple of months and each issue contains a specially designed infographic.

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