Plastic pollution is accumulating rapidly in the global ocean, posing a serious threat to the health of marine life and ultimately human health.
The properties of plastic that make it such an attractive material for a huge variety of uses such as durability, strength and low cost, also make it a lasting problem once it reaches the end of its useful life and becomes waste. By weight, most of the plastic in the ocean consists of large pieces of debris such as discarded fishing gear, bottles and plastic bags but by number the most ubiquitous type are small pieces of plastic, known as microplastics.
Sources of microplastics include fibres from synthetic textiles, microbeads from cosmetics and industrial applications and larger items that have broken down into smaller pieces. Microplastics have been shown to be ingested by marine organisms which can then accumulate up the food web, to commercially exploited species destined for human consumption.
PML scientists are at the forefront of developing techniques for the monitoring, bioavailability assessment and studying the effects of marine microplastics on marine organisms and ecosystems.
Making a difference
PML scientists have contributed comprehensive evidence to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into "Microplastics and the Marine Environment" and provided input into the Parliamentary Office of Science and POSTNote on "Marine Microplastic Pollution".
One of PML's scientists, Dr Penelope Lindeque gave a presentation to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on "What are we going to do about plastics?" to raise awareness of the threat that microplastics pose to the marine environment. The Committee informs members of the Houses of Parliament, scientific bodies, industry and academia on issues where science and politics meet. It also demonstrates the relevance of scientific and technological developments on matters of public interest and to the development of national policy.
The UK government has now proposed a ban on microbeads in personal care products.