Europe-wide research project examines fate of microplastics in rivers and lakes

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have begun work on a €4.1million project examining the distribution of microplastics in European rivers and lakes.

Building on its world-leading reputation for microplastics research, which recently saw it awarded a third Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, the University is one of 13 academic partners in the new LimnoPlast initiative.

LimnoPlast is the first project of its scale to simultaneously take a holistic view of the problem of litter in freshwater systems, drawing together international experts in the natural, environmental, technical and social sciences.

Through 15 funded PhD studentships, the four-year project will aim to train scientists to tackle the complex issue from a variety of perspectives, while contributing to Europe’s innovation and Circular Economy capacity.

They will provide the first comprehensive assessment of the sources and impacts of microplastics to freshwater environments, innovate technological solutions to the plastics issue, promote societal change by understanding the economic, legislative and social context of freshwater microplastics, and transform the science into a set of specific solutions.

They will also communicate directly with European decision makers, stakeholders and the public to enable and promote informed and coordinated action on freshwater microplastics.

The project has been funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, and is being led by the University of Bayreuth in Germany and draws together 13 academic partners from across the continent.

It also includes partner organisations from science and industry, such as Evonik and BASF, as well as PlasticsEurope, which represents plastics manufacturers across the continent.

The University of Plymouth will receive just over €300,000 for its role in the project, and will contribute expertise from both a natural and social scientific perspective.

The project’s focus on influencing European policy will also complement the lead academics’ involvement in an Evidence Review Report published by SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies), which suggested microplastics and nanoplastics could present widespread impacts in the future if emissions to the environment continue at the current rate.

Professor of Applied Social Psychology Sabine Pahl said:

“The LimnoPlast project will be truly innovative by embedding an analysis of human perceptions and behaviour of the problem from the start. This will complement the technical and environmental science analyses and allow us to explore the acceptability of potential solutions as well as the suitability of behaviour change options to reduce the flow of microplastics.”

Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Head of the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, added:

“We are delighted to have received this EU funding to facilitate our work across disciplines and nations to help tackle the problem of marine litter in freshwater systems. We can achieve so much by collaboration across science, industry and communities and I am looking forward to the project immensely.”

The Queen's Anniversary Prize for pioneering research on marine microplastics pollution and its impact on the environment and changing behaviour

Nearly two decades of world-leading research into the effects of marine plastics on our environment by Plymouth researchers, led by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, has received the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a higher education institution.

Recognition for our discovery of microplastics

International Marine Litter Research Unit

Marine litter is a global environmental problem with items of debris now contaminating habitats from the poles to the equator, from the sea surface to the deep sea.

Furthering our understanding of litter on the environment and defining solutions

Find out more about the International Marine Litter Research Unit