"Turn off plastic tap" says expert

Single-use plastic and an obsession with convenience means plastic production is set to treble within a decade and account for an increasing percentage of the world’s oil production.

That was the message from marine biologist and the so-called ‘godfather of micro plastics’ Richard Thompson, who was speaking at Plymouth University as part of a new exhibition on marine pollution.

Thompson, whose paper published in the journal Science in 2004 is largely credited with sparking global awareness of micro plastics, said the material already accounts for eight per cent of the world’s oil production.

“It’s estimated that the percentage will be much higher by 2025. It’s not an environmental problem that’s on its way out, it’s getting worse. There will be a threefold increase in a decade,” he said.

Thompson stressed that it is the linear usage of plastic that is the problem, rather than the material itself, and said a mindset of ‘reuse’, as well as efficient designing, could help close the loop.

“The wider problem is our linear use of resource. If products were designed efficiently, their lives could be much more circular. If we can achieve that, it would decouple us from the need for carbon coming in via oil and plastic.

“We need to condition ourselves out of convenience. I certainly feel like in a country like ours, why on earth do we need bottled water? Take a flask of water like you’d take a raincoat if it was raining,” said Thompson.

Despite the vast amounts of litter in the ocean, Thompson said any future investment should be in stopping single-use plastic production and looking for alternatives, over clean up efforts.

“The bath is over-flowing and we’re doing a lot of mopping the floor. We need to invest in turning off the tap, not in the clean up, which takes 95 per cent of spend at the moment,” he added.

Thompson, who was an awarded an OBE in 2018 for services to marine science, has published studies on micro plastics that included finding that 700 species of marine mammal have encountered plastic, and a study, conducted by a PhD student, that found that one facial scrub contained up to 2.8 million plastic particles.  

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