International Marine Litter Research Unit
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 (IMLRU) has developed a detailed understanding of the environmental and societal impacts of plastic marine litter. 
Through their research, the team have tested numerous interventions with industry partners aimed at identifying the solutions to this global problem, publishing 134 papers on microplastics alone. 

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 present worldwide. 
Their work has shown that microplastic debris now contaminates shorelines worldwide; that they are present in substantial quantities in remote locations such as the deep sea and the Arctic and damaging to a range of marine organisms who ingest these pieces. 

Evidence to inform solutions in policy and industry

For the last two decades, the IMLRU team have dedicated their time to understanding the environmental impacts of plastics in the ocean. The team's work has influenced policy worldwide, and has advised governments and international organisations across the globe. The team are now working to provide the evidence that will underpin the most appropriate solutions.
  • 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 a ban on the use of microbeads in rinse off cosmetics in 2018. Many other countries around the world have followed with similar policy actions.
  • In 2020 research on the release of textile fibres during laundering has led to industrial innovation to introduce plastic microfibre capturing filters on washing machines. This has led to the implementation of these filters on all new washing machines in France from 2025 and has added pressure to introduce this legislation across Europe. 
  • The team's 2022 evidence on potential challenges with mechanical cleaning devices will 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
<p>Plastic bottle and other plastic marine litter on a beach</p>

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.


Animating the issues