Working for the past two decades on marine and freshwater projects in the UK, Europe and around the world, the International Marine Litter Research Unit has developed a detailed understanding of the environmental and societal impacts of plastic marine litter.
The global outlook of the team’s research has seen them test numerous interventions with industry partners aimed at identifying the solutions to this worldwide problem. They have published 134 papers on microplastics alone, and their work has influenced both national and international legislation.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS and his team were the first to show that microplastic particles have accumulated in oceans since the 1960s and are now globally present in our seas.
Their work has shown that microplastic debris is now found in substantial quantities in remote locations such as the deep sea and the Arctic and that they are damaging to a range of marine organisms who ingest these pieces.
Evidence to inform solutions in policy and industry
The team’s work has influenced policy worldwide and has advised governments and international organisations across the globe. Their research now focuses on providing the evidence that will underpin the most appropriate solutions to the problem of marine plastic pollution.
Evidence provided to UK Parliament in 2015 informed the tax on single use plastic bags.
In 2015, the team's evidence to Defra and the UK Parliament led directly to the 2018 ban on the use of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics. Many other countries around the world have followed with similar policy actions.
- Our 2020 evidence on the release of textile fibres during laundering has led to industrial innovation to introduce plastic microfibre capturing filters on washing machines. This has resulted in the implementation of these filters on all new machines in France from 2025 and has added pressure to introduce this legislation across Europe.
Contributed to the UN Environment Agency report in 2022 which informed discussions on a new global plastics treaty.
- The team's 2022
evidence on potential challenges with mechanical cleaning deviceswill inform local authorities and others managing water bodies.
- H Coined the phrase 'microplastics'
- H First to demonstrate marine organisms ingest and retain microplastics
- H First to discover global distribution of microplastics from Arctic sea ice to the deep sea
- H Published the most science on the subject of marine plastics than any other University in the world
Research highlights and top stories
The Queen's Anniversary Prize for pioneering research on marine microplastics pollution and its impact on the environment and changing behaviour
University holds official virtual side event for the 2022 UN Ocean Conference - Plastic pollution
Stemming the tide of microplastics and marine litter: REF2021
Marine Litter: Are there solutions to this global environmental problem?
The University's Marine Institute research into marine plastics and their impact on the environment, over almost two decades, has resulted in numerous research findings of major importance, influencing national and international legislation. As well as demonstrating the impacts, the focus of the International Marine Litter Research Unit has progressively shifted towards solutions orientated approaches.
Our brochure delves into more specific details of the world-leading research that our team continue to progress.
Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP)
Lost at Sea: where are all the tyre particles? (TYRE-LOSS)
National Highways: quantifying microplastic contribution from the Strategic Road Network
Current and future effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems (the MINIMISE project)
PISCES: a systems analysis approach to reduce plastic waste in Indonesian societies
INSITE Decommissioning and subsea plastics
International Marine Litter Research news
- Scientists call for global push to eliminate space debris 9 March 2023
- Bottle with a message 20 December 2022
- Study demonstrates how microplastic particles differ across the Atlantic Ocean 22 November 2022
- Volvo Environment Prize 2022 awarded for world-leading microplastics research 24 October 2022
- Research explores the potential for mechanical devices to clear the ocean of plastics 12 October 2022