Why this citizen science research matters
In 2018 the UK government advised it is working towards tackling plastic pollution in their 25-year Environment Plan. At the time I was studying for a masters degree and so dove in (pardon the pun) to find out what had influenced this change in policy – was the science warning about plastic pollution finally being heard, had David Attenborough on Blue Planet 2 and before him the film A Plastic Ocean had such an effect than parliament was going to do something?
Desk Based Research
I’m not a scientist, instead my research was qualitative reading copious academic articles, parliamentary debates and news stories. In my search I found a clear and sudden rise in attention on plastic pollution in all three areas.
Other factors such as the gradual attention around the idea of Natural Capital, and the increased recognition of the importance and need to move towards a Circular Economy were found to have influence. The ongoing difficult political and economical environment surrounding Brexit, the changing leaders of the Conservative party and henceforth within the party also clearly impacted the introduction of the Environment Plan and the recognition that work is needed about plastic pollution.
My research showed collaboration is vital, the collective pressure by environmental organisations who utilised the public feeling after Blue Planet 2 to get more signatures on petitions, and from a rise in available science and evidence used.
We must hold the government to account, they pledged to minimise waste in their 25 year environment plan (2018) AND to achieve clean and plentiful water (by improving at least ¾ of our waters to their natural state. They said they would reduce risks of harm from environmental hazards AND allow plants and wildlife to thrive. Not to mention the acknowledgement that biodiversity needs “enhancing” and climate change needs to be mitigated.
Research by Bangor University and Friends of the Earth found microplastic pollution in some of Britain’s most iconic and remote rivers and lakes.The study looked at ten sites (lakes, waterways and a reservoir) and microplastics were found in all of them. This is why we need to put pressure on Government to acknowledge microplastics as an emergent contaminant (pollutants that have been detected in water bodies, that may cause ecological or human health impacts, and typically are not regulated under current environmental laws).
Friends of the Earth say the key sources of microplastics pollution are car tyres, clothing, plastic pellets (used to make plastic items) and paints on buildings and roads.
Dr Christian Dunn from Bangor University said: “As with all emerging contaminants we don’t yet fully know the dangers they present to wildlife and ecosystems, or even human health, and to what levels they occur in all our water systems.”
Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “MPs must get behind new legislation, currently before Parliament, that would commit the government to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment.”
Enter Laura Sanderson of We Swim Wild, who is currently swimming all 15 national parks and in addition Laura has set up Water Loggers to rally other wild swimmers like herself from all across the UK to gather the much needed evidence.
Follow the journey on social media and get in touch if you’d like to help.