Ministers announced new funding for scientists at the University of Plymouth which will use it to research how particles from tyres, polyester clothing and fishing gear enter the oceans and affect marine life.
The project comes after the Government introduced a ban on miniature plastic beads or ‘microbeads’ in the manufacture of wash-off cosmetic and personal care products where the plastics can be washed down the drain. There are many other sources of small plastic particles – found in places as remote as the Arctic sea ice – including from car tyre friction on roads or through fibres from synthetic clothes released during washing. The 11-month project will build on research already under way, with scientists estimating that tyres contribute 270,000 tonnes of plastics per year while a single wash load of acrylic clothing could release more than 700,000 microfibres into the ocean.
I know that many of my constituents share my view that the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our generation. I am grateful to Surfers Against Sewage, based in St Agnes, who I have been working with for some time. They keep me updated on the latest research so that I can effectively lobby for change in Government policy. The UK is already leading the way in this area, but we want to go further – and faster. Robust scientific evidence should support our policy proposals, and through this exciting project we will build on work under way to understand better how microplastics end up in the marine environment and what we can do to tackle this in the future.
The project is being led by Professor Richard Thompson, who said: ‘The types of microplastics entering the marine environment are incredibly diverse, but recent estimates in Norway and Sweden have suggested that particles of tyre and debris from the road surface could be a substantial source. With very limited real data available to confirm the impact from these sources, there is a genuine and pressing need to establish the true scale of this issue. By combining this with an assessment of the quantities of microplastic from synthetic textiles, we can develop a more complete picture on the relative importance of various sources. We will be able to use our findings to work with the Government, scientists and industry to try to prevent these particles entering the marine environment in the future.’
It is vital that we all play our part in reducing the chances of plastic getting into our marine environment by decreasing our use of single use plastic and disposing of it carefully if we do. It is great to see so many people, scientists, industry, businesses and organisations working together to tackle this problem and to see so many local ‘plastic free’ initiatives as well as beach cleans. It’s difficult to kick the plastic habit but each of us doing something will add up to a big difference.
First published in the West Briton 10/05/18