International Marine Litter Research Unit impact

The REF 2014 panel considered our work on microplastic "to demonstrate outstanding impact in terms of its reach and significance"

Title of case study

Discovery of microplastics as key anthropogenic contaminants in the marine environment

Summary of the impact

Researchers at Plymouth University were the first to demonstrate the occurrence of microscopic plastic debris in the environment. Professor Richard Thompson’s team showed that ‘microplastic’ particles had accumulated since the 1960s and are present in oceans worldwide. This case study describes the impacts from these findings and the subsequent research by the team which demonstrated that marine organisms could ingest and retain this material and that, upon ingestion, microplastics had the potential to release chemical contaminants. The research impacted on UK, European and American policy and contributed to a body of evidence which influenced companies to phase-out microplastics from their products.