Marine debris is a growing environmental problem. It is widely distributed at the sea surface, on the sea bed and on shorelines. Around 75% of this litter is plastic, with other materials such as glass and metal representing only a small proportion of litter in the oceans. Nearly 700 species are known to encounter marine litter, with many reports of physical harm resulting from entanglement in and ingestion of plastic debris.
It is widely acknowledged that plastic litter does not belong in the ocean. It is also clear that the numerous societal benefits that are derived from everyday use of plastics can be achieved without the need for emissions of plastic waste to the environment. Around 8% of world oil production is currently used to make plastic items and there is recognition that we need to change the way we produce, use and dispose of plastic items. In this regard a solution to two major environmental problems, our non-sustainable use of fossil carbon (to produce plastics) and accumulation of marine litter probably lie in utilising end-of-life plastics as a raw material for new production.
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About the speaker
Richard Thompson is a Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University, UK. He specializes in ecology of shallow water habitats. He obtained his first degree from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1992, followed by a PhD from Liverpool University in 1996. Much of his work over the last decade has focused on marine debris with numerous publications on this topic.
In 2004 his team reported on the presence of microplastics in the environment in the journal Science. Subsequent research examined the extent to which microplastics were retained upon ingestion and potential for microplastics to transport pollutants to organisms. He was lead guest editor for a 200 page volume of the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, focusing on Plastics the Environment and Human Health. He is co-author of the European Union Strategy Framework Directive text on marine litter and has recently prepared reports on this topic for the United Nations Global Environment Facility.
In 2014 he presented his research to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, a his Our Ocean meeting in Washington.