On 9 November Imogen Napper gave us an outstanding talk entitled Fantastic Plastic? about plastic pollution in the sea, particularly microplastics. . As a PhD student in Professor Richard Thompsons’ Plymouth University research team she has played a key part in identifying the contribution of microbeads and microfibers to this growing problem.
Plastics are not to blame, we are, in our profligacy and the way we dispose of them. They have gone from being a post-war boon to the development of modern society to the scourge of the seas, some of which are virtual plastic soups. We are almost inured to some sights - plastic bags ingested by turtles and bird guts filled with useless debris, but she identified under 5mm microplastics as a greater and more insidious threat, hidden in the everyday processes of washing ourselves and our clothing.
A rather scientific kind of washing has been at the heart of Imogen’s contribution to researching the impact of these microplastics, entailing hours of sieving and sifting to quantify how much plastic reaches the oceans from these seemingly innocuous sources. Too much, 86 tonnes from exfoliators in the UK alone each year. These results led to academic papers and public concern following widespread publicity. Manufacturers and government are taking note, and a microbead ban is on the way, whilst barriers to washing-generated microfibers are being explored.
Imogen is a passionate and effective advocate of plastic free oceans. Her talk to us was exemplary. She was clear, to the point, informative and persuasive, answering all our many questions thoughtfully. She thinks education has a vital role to play and in her it has found a worthy champion.