Plastic pollution: 2022 UN Ocean Conference – Official virtual side event
28 June 2022, 16:00–17:30
Event streamed live from Lisbon, Portugal
The topic of plastic pollution has received considerable global attention and as a consequence, was the focus of a recent UNEA 5.2 resolution entitled ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument.’  
Most of the evidence around plastic pollution originates from the marine environment, yet most of the causes and hence the interventions to reduce plastic pollution, are grounded in supply chains and actions that lie on land. Do we have sufficient evidence to inform the recent UNEA resolution and if not, where are the evidence gaps? More broadly, are there lessons that can be learned from our current understanding of plastic pollution and our progress towards interventions that can help guide the way toward prioritisation of actions in relation to other environmental contaminants? 
This online discussion, question and answer session with experts from industry, policy and academia helped to identify the critical science and innovation needed to tackle this global environmental challenge.
This panel debate featured short presentations from a diverse multinational panel (academia, policy, industry and innovation, finance, legal frameworks) followed by a Q&A session from the audience of conference delegates. Some of the key questions addressed: 
  • Do we need more evidence on the problem at sea or more on the trade-offs between solutions on land?
  • What are the differences in applicability of solutions between nations?
  • What is the relative importance of interventions at the design stage vs waste management to achieve circularity?
  • What types of legal framework are needed to achieve success? 
  • What are the necessary national/international standards and enforcement?
In short, what are the priorities for evidence to inform intervention in the context of UNEA 5.2? More broadly with regard to other forms of marine pollution, how best to link environmental evidence of impacts to effective solutions, in a timely manner?

Moderator: Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson OBE FRS is a Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the University of Plymouth Marine Institute. He is a world expert on plastic pollution. In 2004, he published the first paper describing the accumulation of microscopic fragments of plastic in the environment, naming them ‘microplastics’. He and his team have been at the forefront of microplastics research showing their global distribution, the potential for transfer from the gut to the circulatory system, and their role in the transport of chemicals. This pioneering work was pivotal in recognition of microplastic contamination in policy, such as Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Professor Richard Thompson

The expert panel

  • Antoinette Vermilye

  • Yonathan Shiran

  • Nancy Wallace

  • Chengjun Sun

  • Emenda Sembiring

  • Sabine Pahl

  • Mojca Zupan

Antoinette Vermilye

Co-founder of the Gallifrey Foundation and also She Changes Climate, Antoinette Vermilye is passionate about the complex interrelationships of the ocean, plastics, gender, and overfishing on social injustice, human health and the environment. She seeks either coalitions to find action-oriented solutions that will have far reaching impacts downstream or to take action on identified gaps where little or no attention is being paid.

Thus her work is eclectic interconnectedness: ranging from impact of overfishing on the ocean and migrants, empowering citizens to take civil legal action against unsustainable legal and illegal overfishing, awareness campaigns on the impacts of plastics on human and planetary health, social injustice and the environment and as an International Gender champion.

Yonathan Shiran

Yoni is a SYSTEMIQ Partner leading our Plastics & Packaging platform. He was the program director and lead author of Breaking the Plastics Wave (published in Science) and more recently the lead author for ReShaping Plastics: Pathways to a Circular, Climate Neutral Plastics System in Europe. Yoni leads SYSTEMIQ’s plastics program through engagement with industry, governments, innovators, civil society, and the financial industry.

Before SYSTEMIQ, Yoni spent six years with McKinsey & Company working on a range of strategy and circular economy projects.

Nancy Wallace

Nancy Wallace is the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. The Marine Debris Program is the federal lead for researching, preventing, and reducing impacts of marine debris in the United States. Nancy is the Chair of the Interagency Marine Debris Coordinating Committee and the former Chair of the United Nations Global Partnership on Marine Litter. Nancy has worked on ocean policy related issues for more than 20 years. Her work includes resource conservation with the National Park Service, developing sustainable catch limits for fisheries and efforts to improve water quality in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chengjun Sun

Chengjun Sun got her PhD degree from University of California Santa Barbara, USA, in 2001. She is currently a senior research scientist at the First Institute of Oceanography, MNR, China, an Associate Editor for Marine Pollution Bulletin and an editorial board member of JMSE. She has worked on microplastic pollution investigation in coastal waters, open oceans and the polar regions with a focus on microplastic sampling and identification methods in different media, with the goal of understanding the microplastic pollution level in the world oceans and assessing their potential impact. She has published over 20 papers on microplastic.

Emenda Sembiring

Ir. Emenda Sembiring, ST, MT, MEngSc, PhD, IPM is an Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering Study Program, Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Institut Teknologi Bandung. Since 2021 she is the experts coordinator to assist Indonesia national coordinating team for marine debris handling, Indonesia coordinator for river mouth and beach monitoring using field sampling, UAV and AI and hi-res satellite images, the external principal investigator for UKRI (UK Research Institute) for tackling Plastics Waste in Developing Country and others. To date since 2011, she has been awarded research grants from several international and Indonesian institutions. Since 2015 she has become a resource person for several Indonesian ministries and companies. Emenda is also involved in several international collaborations with Japan, Australia, the UK, Thailand, Vietnam and the Netherlands.

Sabine Pahl

Sabine Pahl is a Social Psychologist whose applied work focuses on the human dimension in environmental issues. She is a Full Professor of Urban and Environmental Psychology at the University of Vienna, Austria, since 2020, leading the Environmental Psychology Group ( She investigates perceptions and behaviour change, particularly in the area of protecting natural environments, (micro)plastic and chemical pollution. A second line of applied work examines restorative effects of natural environments (“green” and “blue” spaces), including the use of natural environments in healthcare. Her projects typically span research and application in interdisciplinary teams. She has provided science advice and input into policy at national, European and international levels, always contributing psychological and behavioural science perspectives.

Mojca Zupan

Mojca Zupan, PlanetCare Founder and CEO, is an entrepreneur who quit her career as a corporate lawyer to change the way we do laundry forever. Visiting a touring exhibition about marine litter, where she first learned about microplastics pollution, changed the course of her life. She decided to embark on an impactful journey: founding a purpose-driven company, which has changed the narrative of sustainable living and paved the way for policy changes. Mojca’s unparalleled passion and determination for ending microplastics pollution has been recognised globally and today she is an established thought and business leader in the field. Among other, she presented PlanetCare solutions to ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, and the French Secretary of State Brune Poirson as France was set to pass the groundbreaking anti-waste law, with PlanetCare supporting the policy change with the proof that it can be done.


2022 UN Ocean Conference events

Professor Richard Thompson joined fellow research and policy experts from Plymouth at the UN Ocean Conference 2022 in Lisbon at the end of June. As part of Marine Research Plymouth’s contribution and commitment to SDG14, they delivered keynotes, moderated, led and joined panels, and chaired sessions at over 20 events. 
Monday 27 June

From Ambition to Action: Ending Plastic Pollution in All Environments
18:00–20:00, Pavilion of Knowledge
Richard Thompson – speaker

Tuesday 28 June

Co-operation meeting between MARE and Marine Research Plymouth
Steve Widdicombe (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Matt Frost (Marine Biological Association) and Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth)


Plastic pollution: what is holding us back from solutions; what key science and innovation is needed to tackle this global environmental challenge?
16:00–17:30, online event:
Richard Thompson – moderator

Wednesday 29 June

Integrating Marine Litter monitoring to inform action
All day, Centro Cultural de Cascais:
Richard Thompson University of Plymouth – speaker
Victor Martinez Vicente Plymouth Marine Laboratory – speaker and panellist


Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment: Recommendation for Monitoring Debris Trend in Marine Environment
18:50–19:35, Feira International de Lisbon:
Richard Thompson – speaker

Thursday 30 June