Plastic litter washed up on beach with tree

Two decades of research

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.

Discovering microplastics

In 2004, 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. They continue to provide the evidence that will underpin the most appropriate solutions to the problem of marine plastic pollution.

Join the University of Plymouth side event at

Alternatives and substitutes: if plastics are the problem, is switching to different polymers or materials the solution?

Perspectives from academia, policy and industry – a panel discussion.
Biodegradable polymers, recycled polymers, aluminium, glass, banana leaves, jute, algae and crustacean shells are all highlighted as potential alternatives and substitutes to help reduce plastic pollution. But is there clear evidence they are genuinely better and if so, in which contexts?
Friday 26 April 2024, Lunchtime, The Westin Ottawa, Canada
Lettuce growing in plastic mulch
Plastic bottle and other plastic marine litter on a beach

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.