Getty image 1183696033. Fishing net caught on coral reef underwater. Research Festival 2021. Engineering solutions for marine plastic pollution.

This event took place on 29 June 2021.

Fishing nets and other gear account for a significant proportion of plastic pollution in the marine environment, causing harm to habitats and organisms and breaking down into smaller particles until becoming microplastics. Fishing is heavily relied upon for global food production, so how can we meet current demands for consumption while preventing harm to our oceans from fishing gear?

Stakeholders from around the value chain are working to accelerate away from wasteful linear Take:Make:Dispose systems, instead moving towards a circular system where we design out waste, keep materials in use for as long as possible and regenerate natural systems.

By substituting polymers that are difficult to circulate for novel bio-materials and managing end-of-life marine plastics, we keep them out of our marine environment and retain the material value within the economy. Clean-up groups, recyclers, innovators, industry, researchers and academics are driving the change that our ecological crisis demands. 

We were delighted to welcome Nigel Topping, COP26 High Level Climate Action Champion where he shared his insights and perspectives of the circular economy in the context of the Race to Zero agenda for COP26.

This event also provided the opportunity to hear from our internationally recognised experts at the University of Plymouth on four multi-million pound Interreg projects, looking into different aspects of circular marine plastics: Preventing Plastic Pollution; SeaBioComp; INdIGO and CircularSeas.

Our International Marine Litter Research Unit has world-leading expertise that has furthered the understanding of the sources and impacts of litter on the environment and society, with a focus on identifying the necessary pathways to meaningful solutions.

This is complemented by our decades of work in the Materials and Structures Research Group spanning composites and structures in applications covering sustainable energy, the marine environment and medical technology.

We invited attendees to:

  • connect with the Race to Zero agenda of COP26 and the role of circular economy practitioners,
  • view the whole system of material flows for marine plastics through the lens of the product journey map,
  • learn about new research breakthroughs in creating a circular economy of marine plastics and biomaterials, and
  • help foster collaboration and best practice.

Who was this event for?
This event was most relevant to those with an interest in sectors related to fishing; port and local authorities; manufacturing; waste management; recycling; sustainability; design engineering; biomaterials; plastics; NGOs and charities involved in beach cleans. It may also have been of interest to innovative companies and entrepreneurs interested in using discarded and lost fishing gear and other plastics to create new products.



13:00 | Welcome: Towards a circular economy for marine plastics

13:05 | Marine litter: are there solutions to this global environment problem? by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the Marine Institute

13:25 | Keynote: Circular Economy and the Race to Zero agenda by Nigel Topping, COP26 High Level Climate Champion  

13:50 | What does a circular economy for fishing gear look like? by Amanda Burton, Engineering Design Research Associate, INdIGO project and Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy Pioneer

14:00 | Building a recycling network – future proofing supply chains by Rob Thompson, Odyssey Innovations

14:10 | New frontiers in biocomposites for marine applications by Professor John Summerscales, Professor of Composite Materials

14:20 | Novel biodegradable polymers aim to substitute for virgin plastics in fishing gear by Pauline Moreau, Project Manager, NaturePlast SAS

14:30 | Closing the loop – marine plastic waste to marine parts using additive manufacturing by Dr Antony Robotham, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Circular Seas Project

14:40 | Applications for the manufacturing sector – the many current and potential uses of recycled nets by Dr Jasper Graham-Jones, Associate Professor in Mechanical and Marine Engineering

14:50 | Break

15:00 | Short film – how the University of Plymouth is pioneering ways to tackle marine plastic waste

15:05 | Lightning talks: Three greatest successes in creating a circular economy for fishing gear – and top solution to a blockage in the circular system

16:00 | Breakout sessions – your opportunity to discuss these projects further in breakout rooms on the following themes:

  • Design for end-of-life
  • Tracking the product through life
  • Recovery, re-processing and re-use

16:30 | Enabling conditions – how do we accelerate towards circularity?

16:50 | Round up and conclusion

17:00 | Close

Nigel Topping – COP26 High Level Climate Champion

Mr Nigel Topping was the CEO of We Mean Business until December 2019, where he drove radical collaboration for climate action among NGOs working with the world's most influential businesses. Prior to that he was Executive Director of the Carbon Disclosure Project. He brings valuable expertise from 18 years in the private sector, having worked across the world in emerging markets and manufacturing.

He holds an MA in Mathematics from Cambridge University and an MSc in Holistic Science from Schumacher College, Devon.

Nigel Topping

World no.1 for marine impact 

We are ranked first out of 379 institutions worldwide against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 14: life below water 2021.
The award recognises the outstanding quality of our international marine research and teaching, as well as our efforts to reduce the impact of campus activities on the marine environment. The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Time Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021
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