In 2004, Professor Thompson’s team showed that ‘microplastic’ particles have accumulated in oceans since the 1960s and are now present worldwide. The International Marine Litter Research Unit described the accumulation of microscopic fragments of plastic debris in the oceans and much of its focus is on these tiny particles which they described as microplastics.
Our work has shown that microplastic debris now contaminates shorelines worldwide, that they are present in substantial quantities in remote locations such as the deep and the Arctic. A range of marine organisms including commercially important species can ingest these pieces and laboratory studies have shown there is potential for this to lead to harmful effects.
Late last year US president Barack Obama signed a bill outlawing the sale and distribution of toothpaste and exfoliating or cleansing products containing microbeads which are a type of microplastic. Our work on this topic has helped inform government around the world. Recently submitted evidence to the UK Houses of Parliament in relation the Environmental Audit Committee enquiry on microplastics.
Our findings are underpinned by research conducted by the team at the University of Plymouth and in collaboration with other leading scientists worldwide. This expertise has guided industry, informed educational and artistic initiatives that raise awareness, and has provided evidence for government agencies and international organisations such as the United Nations.