Turtle swimming with plastic bag in its mouth, with Life Solved Logo in corner

Portsmouth researchers discuss plastic waste and the economics of sustainability

  • 03 November 2020
  • 37 min listen

Welcome to Life Solved Series 2, featuring ideas and research changing our understanding of human relationships and environments.

In this special episode, John Worsey chairs two discussions exploring the world's plastic pollution problem and how this might challenge enzyme technology that's developing here at Portsmouth.

Learn about how developing nations are outstripping the developed world in adopting innovative environmental collaborations in government. And hear how everyday infrastructure, such as wastewater systems, might embrace technology to make our lives cleaner, safer and less destructive to environments.

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Episode transcript:

Narrator: Hello and welcome to a brand new series of Life Solved. I'm John Worsey, and in this podcast, my colleagues and I bring you stories of the world-changing research happening here at the University of Portsmouth. We investigate how your world looks set to change and bring forth new ideas and findings on health and wellbeing, democracy and society, emerging tech and security and the environment.

Narrator: In our last series, we found out how water is political, how forest fires could reshape Britain's future, and how human drone operators are impacted by their work during warfare. And our subjects this time will be just as diverse and just as thought-provoking. You can catch up on series one any time, and each week we'll bring you a new conversation on this channel.

Narrator: To kick off Series 2, we're focussing on how sustainable environments are vital to the economies and the way we live. Recent world events have meant that our focus has been trained more closely than ever on the delicate relationship between human activity, our natural world and the climate. In the past few months, we've started to ask new questions and see our world and nature as ever more vital to our survival and well-being.

Narrator: For that reason, we're starting with a look at the world's plastics problem. Just 14% of the world's plastic bottles end up recycled. A vast amount of the rest goes into our oceans and delicate marine ecosystems, taking hundreds of years to break down. The oceans cover more than 70% of the world's surface. Our location here on the south coast means that Portsmouth has a unique perspective and a unique opportunity to study marine life and water conditions. We're also leading the charge towards a revolution in unsustainable plastics production, combining our research to work with businesses, policymakers and people to eliminate the environmental and health damage caused.

Narrator: I'm joined by Professor John McGeehan and Professor Steve Fletcher to talk about the role of healthy oceans in our economy and how we might tackle the current plastics crisis. Thank you both for joining me. Steve, let's start with you. Your focus is on how economic policy around ocean resources can improve sustainability. Can you explain what the term circular plastics economy means?

Steve Fletcher: Well, a circular plastics economy is really encouraging individuals and businesses and governments to think of the economy, not as a linear process where we extract resources, we use them and then just throw them away like they have no value. But to really think about all of the different parts of the production process of a product and the use parts of a product and how we use the leftover bits, how we use the waste that's generated from those products and processes to bring them back into the economy some way, so they retain their value. What we're really trying to do is eliminate waste from the economy by creating a circular flow back into the economy for any waste products.

Narrator: So, Steve, to what extent do we have any element of a circular plastics economy at the present time? How big of a change are we looking at here?

Steve Fletcher: We're looking at an entirely systemic change in the way plastics is produced, used and disposed in order to achieve a circular plastics economy. At the moment, the plastics economy is extremely linear. We use fossil fuels to produce plastic. That plastic is made into products that we use in our everyday life. Some of the plastics are used multiple times. Others, as you will be aware, are single-use plastics, which might be used in plastic bottles or balloons or straws, those sorts of things. And we use those for a very short period of time. Then they get put in the waste disposal processes. If we're lucky, some of those plastics will be recycled. But the reality is really very few are able to be recycled, partly because of how the waste collection system works in different parts of the world and partly because the recycling infrastructure is missing in large parts of the world too. And what tends to happen is the plastic waste goes to landfill sites instead, and sometimes the waste is even exported to other countries to be dealt with there where it might be, unfortunately, sometimes just burned. And that creates all sorts of problematic environmental and human health implications.

Steve Fletcher: In the sense of a circular plastics economy, we absolutely minimise as much as possible the amount of plastic that goes to landfill or through any other waste channel, whereby there is no route back for them into the economy.

Narrator: Yes, and as we touched on in the introduction, they will languish for hundreds of years before they would naturally break down into their component parts, which seems like a good moment to bring Professor John McGeehan into the conversation. John, thanks for joining us. Can you tell me about your role at the University of Portsmouth Centre for Enzyme Innovation?

John McGeehan: Thanks, John. Yes, and thanks Steve for that nice introduction. So what we're doing as a research group is trying to deliver solutions that can tackle some of that difficult plastic waste that Steve was talking about. So I lead a centre, we're now around 30 scientists at the University of Portsmouth and we've been running for a couple of years. We've been working on enzymes for many decades, actually. But actually, more recently, we've turned our attention to breaking down plastics with enzymes. We've recently attracted multi-million-pound funding and that's really important because what that has allowed us to do is recruit a superb range of scientists from all over the world to join our team here in Portsmouth to look at solutions. So really, we're bringing together lots of different disciplines from environmental zoology and discovery microbiology, through to the areas that I'm more involved in, some enzyme engineering and all the computing around that. And finally linking to industry as well, because we see that as a really important part of the centre.

Narrator: John, there's a couple of technical terms that are probably going to come up in our conversations, so I wonder if I could ask you to define those at the outset. Those terms are P.E.T. and microplastics.

John McGeehan: Sure. So PETS or P.E.T is a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate. And it's one of the most common plastics you find in packaging and single-use applications. That accounts for about maybe 20% of the plastic in the environment. In terms of microplastics, this is really where the plastics get mechanically broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. There's a few different definitions, confusingly for microplastics and basically, these are bits of plastic that are small enough to be uptaken by organisms and assimilated. And we even have nanoplastics, these very, very tiny parts of plastics that you can only see under a microscope. And again, we're looking to try and find out the effect those have on the environment and the organisms that live within that environment.

Narrator: When it comes to the production, as well as the disposal of plastics and microplastics, can we touch on the impact on health here? And I suppose there were two sides to that. There's the impact on animal health in the world, there's also an impact on human health.

John McGeehan: This is a really difficult area because it's really quite controversial. There are some scientists out there that think that the fragments of these microplastics that enter the food chain aren't necessarily going to be damaging. And others that think that actually there's huge health risks. I think what we do know is that when plastics do end up in the environment, they over time, for example, a plastic bottle is in the sea through waves and the action of sunlight it'll gradually break down into smaller and smaller pieces and inevitably end up in the food chain. And we now know that is very much in the food chain and it reaches human cells. What it does there is remains an open question, and there's lots of science to be done. We know the plastics themselves and the making of those, some of those materials contain additives such as plasticisers, fire retardants and dyes, of course, and some of those we know are quite toxic. So if they're ending up in our food chain, then clearly that's very bad.

Narrator: And Steve, from your perspective, why is it so important to get that circular economy going?

Steve Fletcher: We already know it's in the air we breathe, the water we drink. It's found in the deepest deep-sea canyons, at the top of mountains, you know, in the North Pole, in the South Pole, it's already entirely globally pervasive. The more plastic we can keep out of nature, the lower the risk there is to human health. A study conducted in 2019 by the Tearfund, found that in less developed countries, somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million people die every year as a result of mismanaged plastic waste. And they put that down to the ingestion of plastics, either by drinking or eating, so plastic in the food supply chain or through inhalation, so the breathing in of toxic plastic waste. And a lot of this was associated with the people who work at plastic dump sites, in large cities, in the global south where the facilities don't exist to recycle or to treat the waste plastic safely. So it's burned. And the people who do the burning breathe in the toxic gas and as a result of which, they suffer all sorts of terrible medical problems which can be traced back to the inhalation or ingestion of plastics. So John is right to say that a lot of work still needs to be done to understand the precise pathways through which medical impacts are generated. But in a broader sense, there's quite a lot of circumstantial evidence to say that the mistreatment of plastic waste, which ideally in a circular economy wouldn't even exist, is creating huge impacts on some of the poorest people in the world.

Narrator: That's a very stark description of what's going on there and just goes to show how really important and urgent it is to get a grip on this. Coming back to you, John then, your team at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation has been working on a pretty major project which stands to potentially play a very big part in the plastic revolution, hasn't it?

John McGeehan: So what we're doing is really looking to make sure we have this we've done this really unfortunate global experiment by putting millions, billions of tons of plastic waste into the environment. And remarkably, when you look into places like waste dumps, we see that nature is evolving its own solutions to deal with this, albeit a quite a slow pace. Scientists looking in a rubbish dump in Japan discovered a bacterium that is actually living not off the sugar on those waste fizzy drinks bottles, but actually the plastic itself. And these bacteria are secreting a couple of enzymes. And these enzymes, a bit like molecular scissors, are snipping up the plastic into its original components. And this is really exciting because if we can take that waste plastic, reduce it down using these enzymes into its building blocks, then we have this potential to do infinite recycling. And that's really part of the circular economy idea that Steve was talking about.

Narrator: I'm curious to understand how you see your work potentially being used then in industry with a view to minimising the impact of plastic waste in our environment.

John McGeehan: The current routes for dealing with plastic are generally quite poor. Very few plastic bottles are turned back into plastic bottles despite we have technologies to do this, in fact. And part of that problem is the price of oil and gas is extremely cheap. So it's very cheap to make virgin monomers to make plastic. And the predictions are at the moment looking at a trajectory to 20% of those fossil resources going into plastic by 2050, which is incredibly terrible to think about because a lot of those plastics literally are used for minutes before ending up back in the ground as landfill. So what we're really interested in is delivering solutions to industry that are cheap, scalable and effective. And really, that's where we think enzymes has a great role to play. Currently, plastics are often melted down and mechanically and chemically recycled, using huge amounts of energy and generating a lot of waste products. Whereas, enzymes can operate almost at room temperature or certainly warm bath temperature, so very low energy. They break down the plastic into its original components, which can then be purified and reused again. These are identical to the ones you get from oil and gas. So effectively you replace that route and that's a really important factor. So what we really need to do then is speed up the efficiency of those enzymes to make them more competitive with the processes that rely on fossil resources at the moment.

Narrator: And you've had, as we record this in October 2020, you've had a relatively recent breakthrough around that, creating a cocktail of enzymes. Can you explain what happened there?

John McGeehan: The first enzyme we worked on as an enzyme called PETase, which digests P.E.T Into its building blocks. And we found the bacteria that was found in that Japanese recycling dump actually produces a second enzyme. So we took that into the laboratory and actually attached the two enzymes together, linking their DNA code and creating this chimeric super enzyme that some have named it. And that's about six times faster than the original one so that's a good trajectory. Really, we want to be 100 times faster though, so all the research group are currently working very hard at the moment to generate even faster enzymes and we're making good progress, actually.

Narrator: Fantastic. Could you engineer a little cape to the super enzyme?

John McGeehan: Yes. I mean, that would be ideal, really. That would endear the public a bit more with this technology. Of course, the practicalities are that there's lots of people in white coats working for many hours around laboratory benches.

Narrator: The truth of how such things come about. And it's not the only, the super enzyme is not the only groundbreaking initiative happening here at the University of Portsmouth. We also have Revolution Plastics, which, Steve, you're a driving force behind.

Steve Fletcher: Yes. So Revolution Plastics is the University's own initiative to tackle the negative effects of plastic throughout its entire lifecycle from production, use and ultimately disposal. And we as a university have decided to take a stance on this. We feel that this is something that we can contribute to through our research and through our practice and through leading by example as a university, to really make a difference and bring all of our research together across all of the multitude of disciplines that we have within the university to really tackle the plastics problem in a holistic way. There are three main components to Revolution Plastics. The first is essentially working within the University to get our own house in order. We if we're going to offer any degree of leadership on this need to minimise our use of plastics, we need to eliminate the use of single-use plastics. We're also, as a University, committed to becoming climate positive, which means going beyond carbon neutral. So simply by existing, we reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The second part of Revolution Plastics is to work with colleagues like John and lots of other people around the University who are driving forward a compelling research agenda that will make a difference in a very actionable way to resolving the plastics problem. John has described the work he and his team are doing, there are also people working in our engineering departments to look at alternative materials to take plastic out of the supply chain entirely. We're working with people in our fashion department to identify opportunities to reduce plastics and clothing, we're working with our marine scientists to look at the impacts of plastics on marine life. We're also working with the economists to look at how we can actually go about developing a circular economy. But we're also working in the international policy domain as well. And the third part of Revolution Plastics is to work with the city of Portsmouth, trying to create a community of committed organisations and individuals in the city who are really trying to tackle the plastics problem.

Narrator: Steve, I mean, we've talked quite a bit about the damage that's been done to the environment and to health. A lot of what we're talking about is changes going forward to, sort of, protect the future, I suppose. Is there anything that we can do to reverse any of the damage that's been done already?

Steve Fletcher: Yes, there are. I mean, we know from terrible oil slicks and from terrible pollution incidents all around the world that nature has a way of bouncing back. The challenge often is over what timescale and what are the implications for people who may rely upon the products and services that nature provides for us? There's a whole movement towards ecosystem restoration right now. And in fact, the 10 years from January 2021 is the UN decade of ecosystem restoration, where there's a global-scale effort to restore damaged habitats, including habitats damaged by plastic. But it's very much a case of prevention is better than cure I would say with respect to plastics.

Narrator: What can we do in our everyday lives? How can we change our behaviour in a way that might make some sort of a difference here?

Steve Fletcher: Well, this is an interesting question. There's a very strong school of thought that actually it's up to big business and governments to really shape the response to the plastics problem because citizens and consumers are only part of the supply chain of plastic – if I could put it that way. And actually often where we as consumers are locked into buying plastics because there is simply no alternatives. So I would be really reluctant to place any blame or excessive responsibility on us as individuals to solve the problem. But what I would say is we can absolutely ease the pressure that our waste management system is under. The first one is just simply to use less plastic. If you wanted to do one other thing, I would suggest abandoning single-use plastic, avoiding single-use plastic as much as possible.

Narrator: Two great suggestions and coming back to the superheroes in lab coats, John, are there other solutions that you think science might be able to offer us to help us in the plastics revolution?

John McGeehan: I mean, I do believe that scientists are very innovative and there's probably solutions yet to come that we don't even know about yet. Certainly from my group, we're collaborating very widely with groups all around the world and sharing ideas and pushing those forward. I mean, for our own speciality, we're now looking at everywhere, from rubbish dumps to Hot Springs and Yellowstone National Park, looking for strange bacteria that are producing enzymes that can actually break down some of our other waste products. You know, one of the difficulties that waste management has to deal with is the mix, the plastic waste that says it's not just one particular plastic, it's all mixed together. Even in composites, if you look at modern aircraft in cars, they're all glued together and these are very difficult things to recycle. But it's actually a massive opportunity then for enzymes that are quite selective to break those different types of plastics down one at a time and hopefully get value out of them, because really, if we can start getting value out of plastic waste, then the economics of the system will start to drive things forward in a positive way. But to get there, we've got a lot of work to do to make things economically competitive.

Narrator: Absolutely. Thank you both so much for your time. It's been a really, really interesting discussion. And I think one thing people can absolutely freely consume to their heart's content and should is knowledge. So if people want to find out more about your research, we're going to put links in the show notes to this episode. Steve and John, thank you so much.

John McGeehan: Thank you.

Steve Fletcher: Thanks, John.

Narrator: In the next part of this episode, we're going to be finding out how something as every day as our wastewater and sewage system can have a tech makeover and how sustainable revolutions can benefit entire economies. But first, we need to start with how we manage our most basic natural resources.

Narrator: Developed nations are responsible for disproportionate use of the Earth's natural resources. In fact, humans use the natural resources of 1.6 Earths. It paints a grim picture for environments, but what does it mean for developing economies? Big change requires big ideas. We're going to talk about some of the innovative approaches to cleaning up and managing these systems and the kinds of opportunities that those approaches might present.

Narrator: I'm joined by Professor John Williams and Professor Pierre Failler to discuss their work in wastewater and economics, respectively. John Williams, welcome. Let's start with you. Can you tell me why you've chosen to focus on wastewater systems in your research?

John Williams: I think it all began with a general interest in the aquatic environment. I think even as a kid, we were always mucking about in the sea and fishing in rivers and I did notice the obvious pollution which was present in those days. It's a fascinating subject. It's very multidisciplinary: carbon engineering, chemistry, microbiology, with a myriad of different technologies layouts at different sewage works.

Narrator: I think everyone listening to this will obviously have a pretty clear idea of why wastewater systems are important to their own home and their own health. But why are they so fundamental to our relationship with the environment John?

John Williams: Well, it all begins with the use of water-based sanitation, which we're quite dependent on for our infrastructure. There are other solutions. I've got colleagues who are looking into that which we don't avoid using water as a transport system for our wastes. But while we're tied into this technology where we're all going to be using about 150 litres of water a day to transport a whole variety of wastes and that impacts on the hydrological cycle. We're taking water from one place, adding contaminants into it and releasing it in another place. And all of these contaminants can have different effects on the water environment.

Narrator: So what are some of the problems that we're facing here in the UK at the moment?

John Williams: The infrastructure we have is often quite old and people generally are interested in wastewater infrastructure. You pull the flush on the toilet and the waste goes away. And because of lack of understanding, people abuse the system, they put things down the toilet they shouldn't do. But we also have ongoing issues around trying to address the broader environmental problems of treating sewage to ever higher standards, which is what increases costs to consumers and also provides a technical challenge to do this to water companies.

John Williams: OK, thank you, John. So we're going to come back and dig into some of the possible solutions here in a while. But first, I just want to bring in Professor Pierre Failler, so Pierre, you're the Director of the University of Portsmouth's Centre for Blue Governance. Blue Governance, can you explain what that means?

Pierre Failler: Many countries, including the E.U. and the EU countries and African countries, have developed what we call the blue economy. But what is lacking all the time is the governance. So we're trying to be a bit upfront in ways that we develop, we combine, you know, blue economy and ocean governance. And we developed the concept of the blue governance to have at the same level the economics and also the social and also the environmental things.

Narrator: Is this a bit like looking at natural resources around the ocean as if they were they were sort of financial capital and considering how you'd manage those resources as if they were an investment?

Pierre Failler: No, that that's a good way. I think the thing is that when people are talking, or even when countries are talking about blue economy, it's mainly about increasing or developing in all their economic activities, link we can say to the sea, to the oceans, even to the river or the lakes. OK, but the environment and we can say, you know, the ecosystems are more or less left aside, you know. So they are the poor components of this of the blue economy strategies. And on the other side, when you look at the ocean governance, it's really about putting, you know, the we can say coastal and marine ecosystem upfront and putting them really into the policy area in the way that people will take care of the conservation, the maintaining and even the announcement of the coastal and marine ecosystems.

Narrator: So how can protecting a nation's marine or aquatic environment, how can that have value for that nation's economy?

Pierre Failler: Well, in a very simple way, if we take the, in the context of climate change, you know, if you take the carbon sequestration. OK, so every country in 2015 sets up a plan, what we call the NDC, the National Determined Contribution, that they are implemented now, you know, for the period of twenty, twenty to twenty, twenty-five. And in this document, National Determined Contribution, you have a plan to mitigate the carbon emissions. And one way to do it, you know, it just simply, to enhance the capacity of the coastal environments or coastal ecosystems to absorb more carbon that they are doing at the moment. I'll give you an example, we have done a study in Mauritania, looking at the value of the ecosystems of the largest coastal marine park in Africa is the National Park of Banc d'Arguin. And we found out that this park on the zone, in many with the seagrasses was contributing to 20% of the achievement of Mauritania to the carbon mitigation objectives. So the park is contributing to 1.8 billion to the Mauritanian policy, and it cost only 1 million.

Narrator: Yeah, and I suppose others might be protecting the marine environment for the benefit of tourism or for the benefit of industries like fishing. But while we're on this subject of the economy and the ecology sort of meeting and the value of different disciplines cross-pollinating ideas, John, I'd like to come back to you. How do you think our current view of the economy limits the possibility of developing wastewater systems that are more sophisticated, more environmentally friendly?

John Williams: Yes, well, we are tied into our system of economic growth. And of course, in England, all the water companies are private companies paid for by consumers. So it boils down to, I suppose, willingness to pay by the consumers. But there's also issues around how locked in we are to the current ways of valuing technologies. For example, nature based solutions, otherwise known as Bluegreen infrastructure, using the natural or semi-natural or constructed environments using plants, ponds and other systems, can offer advantages, can treat water, the sewage and runoff. But traditional accounting finds it quite hard to cope with putting a sort of capital value on something which is a hole in the ground rather than made of concrete. There's also the fact that we're locked in almost to a technology system based around pipes. A colleague of mine, Peter Cruddas, is very interested in the toilets of the future, which don't use water to transport liquids away, which would require maybe a complete rethink of our infrastructure and the way we relied on water to transport this waste around.

Narrator: When it comes down to this question of sort of overcoming what you call the traditional accounting mindset, where do you see the opportunities to improve things?

John Williams: There are some quite interesting moves. Water companies are very interested in what moving infrastructure and wetlands and so on can offer in terms of water quality improvements and economy. So they're starting to define in the latest documents what systems they might consider adopting. So that would give people confidence in which systems to select. The biggest challenges probably lots of these systems give you additional benefits in terms of ecosystem services to the environment and health. And actually how these get accounted for and paid for means that the multiple benefits of other systems aren't always fully accounted for in decision making. So there are moves to integrate these sorts of thinking into selection of technologies. There's a big opportunity at the moment about trying to complete natural cycles and really how we can think of sewage maybe as a resource where we can recover nutrients, energy, water and others, maybe metals and other compounds, other high-value products and wastewater, which would provide a way of considering it as something which has value, which could then be offset by the investments in the technology to recover that value.

Narrator: You've worked quite a lot with reed beds, am I right, as a means of managing wastewater. You talked about these constructed wetlands. I understand reed beds are quite a big part of some of the work that you've done over the years.

John Williams: Yes, constructed wetlands basically use wetland plants to basically carry out the same treatment mechanisms you would get in sewage works. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of how we normally treat sewage, but it's all around usually getting oxygen in there and breaking down organic matter and starting ammonia and so on. But reeds can do the same sort of thing in a very passive way. The trade-off is land take, they do use more land than an intensive process, and there are all sorts of different applications of constructed wetlands incorporating maybe phosphorus recovery or using them in an even more or less structured way as integrated wetlands, where almost some land is set aside as a wetland to clean up at the end of a wastewater treatment works.

Narrator: Fantastic. Now, while we're on a positive note, Pierre, you've had a career looking for solutions to development challenges. What can you tell us about how developing nations are showing a new kind of economy? What can we learn here in the UK, for example, from the developing nations and what they're doing?

Pierre Failler: Yeah, I think the first things we can learn from them is the need to coordinate at the highest level, and this is something I think that the developing nations do quite well. I've been contributing to the development of the blue economic strategy in Bangladesh, in the Bahamas, Seychelles. Recently, we have done the one for the African Union. What is surprising is the willingness to do things and I think they are using the right tools. So we were mentioning governance earlier on. So the African Union is at the moment setting up a blue governance unit at the end of the African Union Commission. Bangladesh has done the same within the prime minister's office. Bahamas is on the way to do something else at the high level as well as social as well. They have already set up a blue economic department and that if you look at this, you can say this is great, but that doesn't exist in the UK or even in the other European nations. There's a need to have coordination at a very high level.

Narrator: In your experience, to make change happen from here, who needs to change their mind and how do they need to change? What actions do they need to be taking? Are we talking about politicians pushing environmental initiatives further up their agenda or just about us, the public voting with our feet in terms of our behaviours, the products and services that we use? What are the answers here? Who's responsible?

John Williams: I think politicians respond to what the public say a lot of the time. I think there are tipping points. I think part of our role is to identify where there are either ways of providing solutions. So we had a project where we were trying to provide developers with a way of understanding the value of what is effectively a natural asset. When it's actually costing them something, it's costing them a maybe the space they could build a few extra houses on.

Pierre Failler: Yes, maybe I can add, I think you're very right John, and I think everybody has to change in the way that it's not only the policymakers or the citizens it's also the people who are providing the solutions. So that's why I was mentioning earlier on all the transdisciplinary work we are doing. This is something very important and I mean to have the people thinking together in order to develop better solutions that can suit better, we can say, you know, the needs of the countries can be more easily implemented. We are working with many people in energy including in pollution and many different areas. And the combining work provides, I think, talks better to the politician and even to the citizens than we can do, you know, if we only provide one partial solution. So I think it's... Everybody has to change on this.

Narrator: Yeah, and I suppose really it comes down to a mental shift from thinking about short term convenience versus long term costs. And really, we need to all be bearing in mind the long term costs of our, the actions that we take for short term convenience.

John Williams: I would encourage people to just think about the infrastructure which supports their lives. So, especially if we're living in Portsmouth, on Portsea Island, we're incredibly dependent on flood defences, our drinking water supply, our wastewater supply, our waste treatment system. And I think if people started to think about what the infrastructure that supported them and the material and energy flows which go through everyday life, then they would be able to relate to environmental problems caused by their lives in a much more meaningful way.

Narrator: Fantastic. Thank you both ever so much for your time today. Really appreciate it. I know we've only just scratched the surface on both of your research, and if people listening do want to find out more, go a bit more in-depth, there will be links in the show notes to this episode.

Narrator: It feels quite exciting to look at our world and local economies and think we might find sustainable local solutions to current problems that can benefit the environment, too. Thanks to all my guests for taking part today. I hope it's inspired you to think a little differently about how the everyday decisions and infrastructure, that make modern life comfortable, can all contribute to a bigger economic picture. You can find out more about all of our researchers and their work at port.ac.uk/research.

Narrator: Next time we're diving into a one-on-one interview with researcher Dr Juliane Kaminski. We're finding out how your dog might secretly be influencing your behaviour.

Juliane Kaminski: Dogs that produced that eyebrow movement more often were rehomed from a shelter quicker than dogs that produce that eyebrow movement not so often.

Narrator: Subscribe on your podcast app to get a new episode on your device every week. And if you want to join the conversation, do share this podcast on social media using the hashtag Life Solved. See you next time.

If people started to think about the infrastructure that supported them and the energy flows which go through everyday lives, they would be able to relate to the environmental problems in a much more meaningful way.

Professor John Williams, Professor of Environmental Technology

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