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microplastics: what are they and why are they a problem?

There is growing concern about the environmental impact of microplastics in the ocean and waterways. They are widespread and persistent in the environment, and there is some emerging evidence that they may also pose a biological threat to a variety of organisms as well. Some concerns have even been raised that microplastics could potentially pose a threat to human health via the contamination of food.

However, the exact impact of microplastics in this way is still unclear. Lots of attention has focused on plastic microbeads, used in cosmetic products, and many are calling for them to be banned in the UK, as they have been in the US. But what does the evidence show, are there other microplastics that are of even greater concern and what can we do about them?

Experts came to the SMC to talk to journalists about:

  • What are microplastics and how do they get into the environment?
  • How widespread are microplastics and in what volumes?
  • What does the evidence say about their damage to the environment and organisms?
  • Which microplastics are of greatest concern to scientists? Are we focusing on the worst offenders?
  • Can we reduce the volume of microplastics in our oceans and rivers?



Prof. Richard Thompson, Professor of Marine Biology, Plymouth University

Alice Horton, Research Associate in Ecotoxicology, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)

Prof. Alastair Grant, Professor of Ecology, University of East Anglia

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