A study performed by three UK researchers has warned the world of microplastics in the ocean for which they have been awarded the Volvo Environment Prize 2022.
Professor Tamara Galloway OBE, Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, and Professor Penelope Lindeque have been at the global cutting edge of marine litter research and education for the past 20 years.
Furthermore, they have helped alter global policy, and their work is central to international government legislation, impacting the United Nations Treaty on Plastic Pollution, signed by 175 nations earlier in 2022.
In choosing the three laureates for the award in 2022, the jury for the Volvo Environment Prize acknowledged that their work “has been instrumental in providing societal awareness of plastic pollution as an emerging global challenge and triggering policy actions.”
Since 1990, the Volvo Environment Prize has been awarded every year and has become one of the most prestigious environmental prizes in the scientific world. This is only the fourth time it has been awarded to researchers from the United Kingdom (UK).
The first study was headed by Professor Thompson and published in 2004. Marine microplastics have since become a focus of research around the world.
Concurrently, the three laureates have made pioneering contributions to the effects of particulate pollutants and microplastics on marine organisms and human health.
They have emphasized how microplastics are present from the poles to the equator, from the highest mountains to the deepest seabeds.
Furthermore, the researchers have trailed their sources - from plastic bags to microbeads in cosmetics and tire particles - studied their pathways through rivers and wastewater, and displayed how they impact the ocean and its species before entering the human food chain.
Crucially, they have also examined possible solutions, assessing the possibility of natural and mechanical steps to clear plastic from the environment.
They continue to work with policymakers and industry on the most efficient methods to alter the design of plastic products and bring a cultural shift in society’s use of them.
We are all delighted and deeply honored to be this year’s Volvo Environment Prize laureates, and to get such recognition is wonderful for us and our teams. Our collaborations over the past two decades are a perfect example of the joined-up thinking required to address the global issue of microplastic pollution. We want our science to be beneficial to society and to protect our marine environment for future generations.
Richard Thompson, Professor and Head, International Marine Litter Research Unit, University of Plymouth
Professor Lindeque, Head of Science: Marine Ecology and Biodiversity at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, stated:
“The South West of England has always been at the forefront of plastic research. The three of us have enjoyed an incredible interdisciplinary working relationship for many years, as have our teams of ecologists, economists, chemists, mathematical modelers, chemical engineers, and remote sensing scientists.”
“This bringing together of minds across disciplines has allowed us to look at the wider picture. It has meant we can assess the problem, develop novel analysis techniques, challenge the status quo, and look towards solutions.”
Achieving what we have achieved has only been possible due to the many scientists, students, and collaborators who have been and continue to be involved in this work around the world. Everyone who has contributed to this field of research is helping to bring about positive change for the whole of society and this award recognizes all of them.
Tamara Galloway, Leader, Plastics Research Team, University of Exeter
This is the second time the continuing collaboration between the three research groups has been recognized after they won both the Societal Impact category and the overall prize in the Natural Environment Research Council’s 2018 Impact Awards.
Trailer: Plastic Ocean – the spread of microplastics and what to do about it
Video Credit: University of Plymouth