Revolution Plastics Community Launch webinar
Hosted by Professor Steve Fletcher
Watch our online event Revolution Plastics: Creating a Sustainable Future for our City, which took place on 26 November 2020.
Discover how we're tackling the problems associated with plastic — from engineering plastic-dissolving enzymes, making fashion more sustainable and studying how microplastics affect our oceans, economy and the air we breathe.
Professor Steve Fletcher, the University’s Director of the Sustainability and the Environment research theme, introduces the Revolution Plastics initiative and our progress so far. You'll also hear from a panel of experienced guests who answer questions from the audience and explore how we can create a more sustainable future.
Steve Fletcher Hello, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this live online launch of the community aspect of Revolution Plastics. My name is Steve Fletcher. I am the internal lead of Revolution Plastics for the University of Portsmouth. And I'm delighted that so many of you could join us today for this launch event.
Steve Fletcher I'm just going to provide a brief introduction to Revolution Plastics and to the plastics problem facing the world that Revolution Plastics is designed to contribute to tackling. I think many of us will recognise from our own lives that plastics are becoming more ubiquitous and we're seeing waste plastic littering the streets and on our beaches, in our streams and rivers and so on – and of course, in the sea. When you magnify that up globally, the figures are pretty terrifying. A recent study showed that between 2016 and 2040, we expect plastic waste simply being created through our everyday actions to double, we expect that to double. We expect plastic leaking into nature or pollution, in other words, plastic pollution to triple. And we expect the plastic stock, the amount of stock in the ocean, to almost quadruple by 2040. There are also significant impacts of plastic on human health, as some of you may know. A recent study suggested that up to 1 million, yes, 1 million people, die per year in less developed countries as a result of mismanaged plastic waste. That's through plastic waste being ingested or plastic waste that's being burned, them breathing in those toxic fumes and becoming ill.
Steve Fletcher So plastic is an environmental problem and it's also a problem for human health. So here at the University of Portsmouth, we're committed to taking a stance against the problems generated by plastic. We're keen to support the benefits of plastic, of course, but the problems around plastic, it's important that we get a handle on and can start to tackle. So we've set up an initiative called Revolution Plastics. Revolution Plastics has three main components to it. First of all, it's about getting our own house in order. The University is committed to making a transition or transformation to become one of the greenest universities in the world over the next 10 years. We've committed to an ambitious climate target to be climate positive by 2030. And as far as we know, we're the only UK university to have committed to that. Secondly, we are keen to build on our existing research excellence in the plastics space to build an internationally relevant research community focussed on developing actionable research that really makes a difference. So that includes our work in fashion, in food, in marine science, in engineering, around circular economy and of course around our work in enzymes, which is perhaps at the moment some of our best known work. So that's the second part of Revolution Plastics, to really build a research community that can make a difference. And finally, and this is where this event comes in, we're super keen to make a difference in Portsmouth itself. We recognise that Portsmouth is challenged as a city in many ways, but is amazing in a city in many ways, too. So we're really looking to see how we can make a difference to support the Portsmouth community to tackle the plastics problem and really help the city transition to a more sustainable future.
Steve Fletcher So this is our community launch event. We've got a great panel of people who will talk to us and who you can ask questions of with respect to their approach to dealing with plastics and understanding the plastics problem. And I'll introduce those panellists in a couple of moments – a couple of minutes, I should say. But first, in a moment, we're about to show a film that really, I think, touches at the heart of some of the issues of plastics in Portsmouth. So let's show view that film now.
Clare Seek Portsmouth faces a crisis of plastic with all our neighbours around the world.
Cressida Bowyer We've become too reliant on single-use plastics and we're into this use and dispose way of life now.
Steve Bomford I'm not a great one on statistics, but you only need to take a little walk along the beach, walk along the streets, you can see plastic absolutely everywhere.
Connie Fenner It's just living on like a bit of a trash planet at the moment.
Cressida Bowyer One of the things that I think maybe isn't always that well recognised or understood is the fact that plastics recycling isn't actually quite what it says on the tin.
Connie Fenner 90% of everything that we throw in the bin in the UK is burnt regardless of what it is. If you're throwing it away, it's going to be contributing to climate change.
Cressida Bowyer It also releases particulates, volatile organic compounds and dioxins – and these are cancer-causing agents.
Steve Bomford I think our relationship with waste is dysfunctional. You put it in the recycling bin and that's the end of the responsibility.
Fay Couceiro Once the plastic is discarded, it tends to weather. And even if it's a very large piece of plastic, it will get smaller and smaller and smaller until you get microplastics. One piece of plastic will be creating billions of microplastics. It's these small particles that are much more likely to get ingested or inhaled by us. We spend 90% of our time indoors and the number of plastics in indoor air is 60 times higher than in the outdoor air. You know when you look up and you see some of the dust swirling in the air, some of that will be plastic. And that is what we're inhaling.
Clare Seek Within 20 years, it's going to triple and they're suggesting that 50 kilos of waste is in each metre of shoreline. And if you look at Portsea Island, we have 13 miles thereabouts. Can you imagine going down to the beach in that metre, you've got about 2000 plastic bottles a year just in that bit. It's horrendous.
Esther Rodriguez If we don't do something now, that's it.
Connie Fenner We are zero waste, which means that you don't take any plastic packaging home. We are powerful as consumers and we can vote for change with our purchases, allowing people to buy only what they need.
Steve Bomford The aim of Jetsam initially is to photograph every bit of plastic in Portsmouth and beyond. What we're trying to do over a period of time is create a map of where plastic was and thereby try and devise, come up with solutions, whether they're technological solutions or whether they're beach cleaning solutions, to try and address that problem. Fundamentally, if we don't know where it is, we can't do any of those things.
Connie Fenner So I think if we don't act now, then the generation that will inherit whatever we're building and whatever we're living in at the moment, are just going to have such a hard time. I mean, it's already quite hard for a lot of people because of climate change and ecological related disasters that are currently happening. And they're only going to get worse if we don't do something.
Cressida Bowyer We've got to be careful not to let the enormousness of this problem make us think that it's too late. Portsmouth is a special place, an interesting place because it's an island city. If we want to look at plastic flows in and out of the island, we can control and identify what's happening in the city.
Steve Bomford There are problems, but I think it makes a great laboratory to try and solve the problem.
Steve Fletcher Great, I hope you enjoyed that and I hope for those of you that are based in Portsmouth, you could recognise some of those challenges that were presented in the video. I think what I'll do now is introduce my fellow panellists in turn, just to introduce themselves actually ever so briefly. And then we have got a series of questions that have been submitted by the audience ahead of this event, and we'll go through those questions first. And then if there are questions that come up as part of the discussion, then we'll try and get as many questions and discussion points into our panel as we possibly can during the, um, during the rest of the time that we have together.
Steve Fletcher So I just call on my panel members to introduce themselves in turn. And can I ask councillor Ashmore, Dave Ashmore, to go first, please, just a brief introduction? Thank you, Dave.
Dave Ashmore Excellent, yeah, I'm Dave Ashmore. I'm one of the councillors and I'm the Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change for Portsmouth City Council.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant and welcome, Dave, and thank you for being part of this panel. Gemma, next, please. Gemma Lacey from the Southern Co-op.
Gemma Lacey Hi, everyone. Gemma Lacey, Director of Sustainability and Communications with Southern Co-op. For those you're not familiar with us, we're an independent regional cooperative operating across the south, running over 250 convenience food stores and funeral homes.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you, Gemma, and welcome. Uh, Hannah, please, Hannah Harrison from WPP, please.
Hannah Harrison Hi everyone, I'm Hannah Harrison. I'm Director of Sustainability for WPP, which is a global communications company. And I'm also lucky enough to sit on the advisory board for Resolution Plastics.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you very much, Hannah, and welcome to the panel. Next up is a Fay Couceiro from the University of Portsmouth. Uh, Fay, please.
Fay Couceiro Hi, everybody. My name is Fay Couceiro. I'm a Senior Research Fellow, I work in the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, and my work is mostly in pollution. One of the areas of pollution I work in is plastic pollution and how that impacts the environment and human health.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you, Fay, welcome. Next up is Louis Capitanchick, from Jetsam. Louis, over to you, please.
Louis Capitanchi Hi there, everybody. I'm Louis CapitanChik, the co-founder of Jetsam Tech. We're a Portsmouth based, community-focussed plastics logging app and we're lucky enough to be partnered with Revolution Plastics.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you, Louis, welcome. Next up is Cressida Bowyer, please. So, Cressida, from University of Portsmouth.
Cressida Bowyer I, um, I'm Dr Cressida Bowyer, I'm a Senior Fesearch fellow working as part of Steve's Revolution Plastics initiative.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant, thank you, Cressida, and the plug for the team, excellent. And last but not least, is Ed Walls, from the Student Union. Over to you Ed.
Ed Walls Hi, yep, I'm Edward Walls. I'm the Academic Representation Officer for the Students' Union. And yeah, I'm just looking at ways to try and help get the University and the Union to be a bit more environmentally friendly and, yeah. That's all I think.
Steve Fletcher Yeah, excellent. Thank you, Ed, and we're incredibly keen and committed to this being a joint effort between the students and the University. So thank you for being part of the panel Ed, we appreciate that very much.
Steve Fletcher Okay, well, let's get down to the questions. What I'll do is ask each of the panel member one question to start with and then we'll open the discussion up a little bit further than that. So first up, luckily is, is Dave. Thank you for volunteering to go first, Dave, although I think volunteering is possibly too strong a word for that. Could you just explain, please, what steps Portsmouth City Council is taking to improve recycling rates and to reduce plastic waste in the city? Thanks.
Dave Ashmore Yeah, um, obviously, there's two things there, there's recycling rates in general and about, you know, reducing plastic waste and what we can do to try and make better use of the rates of plastic there. One of the things that we did is one of the very first things I did, really, was we did a limit on how much, you know, rubbish you can put up outside your house for collection. Up till fairly recently, it was pretty much bring out everything in your house, you could put as many bags out as you wanted to. And of course, you know, why not? People would put in there whatever. So, by having it concentrated on, you know, what can fit in your black bin or, you know, three bean bags, unless, of course, you need exceptions. You know, you're going to have larger families where you might have -- especially in lockdown, for example, you might be at home more. But yeah, once it's -- people's minds are concentrated on what fits in here, you'd be amazed that, you know, suddenly, you know, the amount of extra recycling bins that are people order, we need another recycling bin or recycling tub. So that obviously meant that people were, you know, the little nudge behaviours like that meant people were a bit more, perhaps, conscious of what was going in other waste. So that was one example there.
Dave Ashmore Um -- other things we've done is, you know, we've increased the amount of glass banks around so people got places to put their glass. We've introduced Tetra Pak recycling banks around, you know, Asda in Fratton, Morrison's Anchorage Park and we've got one and Alex Way in Hilsea there. You know, and hopefully more to come on that. So that's something that couldn't be recycled before that now can be in the city. Yes, so we've increased that. We've invested in a mattress shredder because mattresses, believe it or not, are very difficult to recycle because you have to separate the component parts and there's not much more you can do when you've got these little metal springs and this, what they call, flock, inside. We invested in a mattress shredder, which means now it can be shredded and the parts separated and stuff -- I say 'stuff' -- but things can be done with the component parts that mean it's actually recycled rather than just bunged away. And we go through quite a fair few mattresses in the city. So that helps as well.
Dave Ashmore Of course, we've introduced food waste trials and that would be looking to go citywide by the end of next year. So, food waste makes up approximately -- something like 40% of the waste that goes in people's bins. So, if that's something that we can actually make use of by making it into biogas or fertiliser, for example, then it makes much more sense than it just going into general waste and going to the energy recovery facility, as we call it, the incinerator, as everyone else calls it. So, yeah, if we can do something productive with food waste, that's 40% of the usual rubbish that's gone away, that's being recycled as well.
Dave Ashmore As for plastic there, things that we've done as a council, you know, we stopped using the plastic cutlery in council buildings. We've, you know, plastic cups that people have, they're no longer there – used to be the water cooler thing, didn't it, plastic cup there, you know, drink from that. So, yeah, the thing that we've seen not just in the council, but everywhere, is people have now -- they've become so unfashionable the plastic cups. People have their own, you know, metal --metal bottles that they can reuse, for example. So that's an example where things have become so unfashionable, bit like CFC back in the day, it's become so unfashionable now that, you know, people -- you don't need to be told but it's strange if people need one now. So that's something that everyone has done and everyone's contributed to. But, yeah, you know, we've gone through that.
Dave Ashmore The difficulties with -- when we talk about plastic recycling, it was touched on in the video as well, I think, Dr Bowyer said, it doesn't always get recycled. It can just be packaged, taken out of the city and just left somewhere or just sent abroad where it's left somewhere – and of course that's not recycling and it's just moving it along. I think the real thing we should be focussing on is eliminating single use plastic. From the source, we'd like to see more producer responsibility, because I know supermarkets have them and businesses have them, and they are part of our daily life, these plastic products. It all comes from the manufacturers that use them. So from the top down, you know, we'd like to see it eliminated completely rather than on recycling, which may or may not actually get recycled, just not using it at all. So, you know, we've got the environment bill coming through that should hopefully have a producer's warranty on it. But that's had so many setbacks because it had Brexit preparations, then there was an unexpected German election and now we're in the middle of a pandemic. So that's a bit slower going through than we would like. But, yeah, that producer responsibility, I think that will be a key to how – to use a phrase – trickles down into every other part of our daily life in this country. So, yeah, that's – rather than me go on – that's the things that the council do locally, as well as some national things there.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you very much, Dave. That's really interesting. And I think what you're touching on straightaway there is the need for systemic change. So, you know, it's all very well treating the waste but actually the waste is a function of how products are designed and made and consumed in the first place. So the solution isn't in dealing with the waste, the solution is further upstream, potentially. Speaking of which, can I can I turn Gemma of the Southern Co-op and just begin to open that, that's a broader conversation around, well, what is the role for business in helping tackle these sorts of issues that Dave is just alluding to around plastics, please?
Gemma Lacey Thanks, Steve. So I think absolutely the first step for businesses is to really look at what their impacts are from a packaging and plastics point of view and to understand where they have the greatest usage of those and, therefore, the biggest impacts. And I think, like we've been using the waste hierarchy, is then to start to think absolutely about how you start to phase out unnecessary packaging or excessive packaging and start to eliminate that and a degree that there's absolutely no place now for single use plastics. It's then about looking to use more sustainable materials and those materials that can be reused or recycled.
Gemma Lacey So from a Southern co-op perspective, we've been clearly looking at all of the packaging from an own brand perspective. And our goal is very much to move away from single use plastics and we've started to do that in a number of areas. But the packaging that we do need to use for the safety or the protection of all products or to keep them fresher for longer and reduce food waste, we want all of our Co-op own brand packaging to be fully recyclable. So about three out of four products now from a brand perspective can be widely recycled. And I think it's about keeping that packaging in the economy, but absolutely out of our oceans and off our streets as well.
Gemma Lacey So just some examples of things that we've done to date. We've removed things like hard to recycle plastics, like dark or black packaging. We've moved to look at more recycled P.E.T. plastic so 100% of our Co-op branded water bottles are now in that recycle P.E.T. and we're looking at how we can use that across other ranges. We were the first retailer to remove plastic stems from cotton buds and replace those with paper and, sort of, other things like removing plastic straws, obviously food-to-go cutlery and all those sorts of things. So lots and lots of different kind of initiatives underway and really focussing on moving towards that recyclable packaging. But I mean, we absolutely recognise there's a long way to go and we've all got to play our part in getting that change through as quickly as we possibly can.
Steve Fletcher Yeh, brilliant. Thank you very much, Gemma. It's great to hear about the things you're doing and the things that are making a difference to the choices consumers have, actually, because sometimes a lot of pressure is put on the consumer behaviour but actually, the consumer is often locked into a smaller range of choices, sometimes none of which are particularly environmentally friendly. So that's great news. Hannah, could I turn to you please? Through your job, you work with some of the world's biggest brands. Is there, sort of, traction globally in some of those bigger brands as well in the way that Gemma was explaining with the Southern Co-op?
Hannah Harrison Yes, absolutely there is. And the good news is, is that that traction seems to be growing rather than decreasing, despite the fact that plastic seems to be more prevalent in our lives than ever because of the pandemic. And we did some research this year during the pandemic and spoke to 18,000 consumers around the world, and of all the environmental issues, plastic is the second biggest concern globally, and that's growing after climate change. And Dave spoke about producer responsibility – that's something that we're very clearly hearing from consumers too. So around the world, consumers really do expect manufacturers to lead on tackling the issue of plastic waste. But at the moment, there's a bit of a gap between expectations and what consumers are seeing. And just one in five of the consumers we spoke to were able to name a manufacturer they thought was doing well in this space. But I think businesses are putting a huge amount of research and investment into tackling the issue of of plastic waste and recognise that it's a huge opportunity. I think the -- what we often think of as 'eco activists', so consumers who take active steps when they're buying products to buy products with environmental credentials. The consumer goods -- the consumer goods industry alone, they represent 382 billion dollars globally. So this is a huge opportunity for businesses and I think they recognise that there's an upside here as well as this being the right thing to do. And so we're seeing a huge amount of work going in to tackling plastic waste.
Hannah Harrison And where we're working with our clients is really in three areas. First of all, product design and packaging innovation – so how can we move away from using plastic in the first place? And you're seeing all sorts of really interesting ideas in that space. I think one of my favourites recently, because I used to work in the beer industry, is beer plastic bottles being replaced with paper bottles. So there's really interesting alternatives coming to the market. The second area is really in thinking about developing new systems, not just new systems for recycling, but how can we move away from a make take waste culture to a more circular culture. And I think Burger King was one of the latest brands to join Loop. So you can now get your whopper in reusable packaging. And I think there's really interesting stuff going on in refillables and we're seeing that all over the world. We've been doing some work with Unilever in the Philippines to look at how shampoo and hair care products could be sold in refillable packaging. And then the third is, how can we really inspire consumer -- shifts in consumer behaviour at scale? And that, as you say, Steve, is not just about putting the onus on consumers, it's really about making it easy to shift behaviour and giving them the right options. And I think one of my favourite examples that we've been involved in is I don't know if you've recently been into a Costa or a Pret, but the bins for getting rid of your coffee cup have changed and they're now transparent, and they've got three different sections to pour any excess water/drink away. And then there's a section for the cup and a section for the lid. And that's even more important now because in many parts of the world it's now actually illegal to use your refillable cup because of Covid-19. And we've definitely seen there are lots of shops now that don't want to take reusable cups. But that's based on behavioural science and it's partly about using peer pressure and the fear of doing it wrong and being ashamed by making it transparent. And it's been about re-educating and really thinking about how can we tackle an issue. You know, in the UK we throw away 7 million coffee cups a day, probably a bit lower at the moment because none of us are allowed to leave our homes. But some really interesting work going on. And I think more and more what's encouraging is businesses want to collaborate with each other, but also collaborate with regulators and with governments to understand how can we shift the whole system.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you very much, Hannah. I think scaling up is a real challenge for business as well as you just alluding to that at the end there, which is having innovations and systemic change within individual businesses is one thing, but then actually scaling up to tackle systemic changes across the whole economy is even more challenging in a sense. Let's change direction a little bit and bring in my colleague, Fay. Fay, a lot of people, kind of, have heard of microplastics and probably have heard that they're a bit of a problem in various ways. Would you be able to just give a quick description of what microplastics are in very broad terms, and then talk about some of the challenges of them with respect to human health in nature as well, perhaps?
Fay Couceiro Yes, of course. So microplastics, by definition, are anything that's less than half a centimetre in size. So if you know what a centimetre is, anything that's less than half a centimetre in all directions would be counted as microplastic. If you're looking at the literature around this, you might see primary and secondary. The difference between that is a primary microplastic was designed as something that was smaller than half a centimetres, so that's gone directly into the environment. These are the things that are called nurdles that you see on beaches sometimes. They're spills from the pre-packaging of things. But by far and away the majority of microplastics in our environment are secondary microplastics, and that means they are fragments of bigger pieces of plastic that have been broken down. So that's what micro plastics are.
Fay Couceiro In terms of the problems around them, they are everywhere and they come in all size. So when we talk about microplastic in a nurdle, half a centimetre, you can see that it's quite a visible thing and you can do something about it. Much more concerning are the ones we can't see that are sort of smaller than one -- than one millimetre, that are smaller than 100 microns. And these tend to be the ones that we can't see and that we are ingesting and we are breathing in. And if you saw a nurdle in your food, you would take it out. But the smaller ones are the ones that we eat. I know people are concerned about these impacts on human health, and I'd like to point out that we don't know the full extent of the impacts on human health. There's just not enough research out there. What we can do is infer from other things. These have been in the environment and we've been studying them in the marine environment for quite some time. And they do have negative impacts on various species in the marine environment. So oysters, crabs all the way up to sea birds, you can start to see the impacts of microplastics in them. And that might be reproductive health is decreased, it might be their feeding, it might be just overall health is decreased. In humans, obviously, we don't do experiments in humans for very obvious reasons, we don't feed them microplastics, so we have to do a lot of inferring about what that might be, or we look -- we grow up cultures of cells and introduce microplastics. The early work that has been done suggests that there can be an impact on cell health if you introduce a large number of microplastics. But so as people don't become worried, the vast majority of microplastics that we ingest, we poop out. We are very good at that. We are designed to to pass anything that is not digestible through us. But the very concerning things are the tiny, tiny microplastics, what are sometimes referred to as nanoplastics. And they can get into our cells and they are where we start to see problems.
Steve Fletcher Gosh, thank you, Fay. It's always a very mixed emotions talking to you about, about plastics.
Fay Couceiro I must say, again, we are not being alarmist here. We don't know. There just needs to be further research. And it's what is attached to the microplastics as well that's important. The plastic themselves might might not be the problem, it might be the microbes attached to them that cause the problems. So it's -- it's still early days.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you so much, Fay, for that. And I guess in a roundabout way, that kind of brings us to the question of what can we do ourselves to tackle some of the problems related to plastics, at which point I'll bring in Louis. Louis, you co-founded Jetsam, which you can describe yourself in a moment. But can you just explain how Jetsma is helping people to, if you like, help themselves with respect to plastics?
Louis Capitanchik Absolutely, yeah. And I think I'll start off in explaining kind of what Jetsam is and how it works with a quick few seconds to explain why it is. So, it was a couple of years ago at this point that myself and Steve Bomford, who you have seen in the intro video, were sitting around a table and discussing, you know, what can we as regular people do to, you know, make any sort of change in what we see around the city? And we kept coming up with ideas here and there but realised that what we wanted to do, it was kind of hard to describe why we would be doing it. There's a lot of really good data around microplastics. There's lots of really good discussion around that, but there's a bit less information and it's not, you know, it is out there, but there's a bit less and it's a bit harder to access. A bit less information about, I guess, regular sized plastics, you know, bottles lying on the street, that sort of thing. So we found it very hard to describe the problem that we wanted to solve. So for us, that was kind of an obvious first step.
Louis Capitanchik So Jetsam is a community focussed, plastics logging app that really the kind of the aim is that any time you leave the house, you're now citizen scientist. And you can really very simply see plastic on the street, take a picture and that sends us data that we can then use to empower the wider community to take action. You know, if there's plastic on the beach, then people would now know, based on your input, that there is plastic in that specific location. If there's plastic in the city centre and you have catalogued it, well, now we can work with the council, we can work with local organisations, beach cleaning groups, everything to send people to help solve that problem. So that's really, kind of, what Jetsam is, is empowering everybody really to be able to do something and to help other people do more things about kind of this problem with plastics. And I think that for people to get involved, it's you know, it's a very simple process. There's kind of -- you can get a little bit more information at jetsam.tech website – you can download the Jetsam map. And it's a very simple two-click process to start collecting data and to even see the data that other people have collected. So there's the wider Jetsam community and we'll show we show back on a, you know, it's very kind of simple heat map – you can see where other people are logging at the plastic and hopefully find that somewhat informative. That's you know, I think there's a lot of things that we kind of want to expand to in future to make it even easier to log more in-depth data. But for now...
Steve Fletcher Brilliant, thank you very much, Louis. And I would encourage anybody who wants to take action themselves to download the app and start recording. So, yeah. Thank you, Louis, very much. Next up is my colleague Cressida. And I think one of the things we're quite keen to do through our community launch is to kind of think about how the University can support tackling plastics issues in Portsmouth and, of course, the wider world. Cressida, you do a lot of work in developing countries around plastics, but can you perhaps make a couple of comments around how universities can support our efforts to tackle plastic pollution and maybe any lessons you can bring from other parts of the world back to us here in Portsmouth?
Cressida Bowyer Thanks, Steve. Yeah, I mean, universities are uniquely positioned to provide leadership and serve as role models in their communities. And universities work with community organisations, with local businesses, with councils, so they're in a good position to share and exchange knowledge with those other bodies. Obviously, universities are tasked with educating. So, they're in -- it's important for universities to ensure that they're teaching about sustainability in the environment and climate change is good and is impactful.
Cressida Bowyer In terms of research, university research, there are different areas that we at the University of Portsmouth carry out research into the plastic pollution. One area is the impact of plastic pollution and we're looking at, you know, the social, the environmental and the health impacts of plastic pollution. We're modelling the flow of plastics both locally and globally. Fay's spoken about her work on how plastic impacts human health. And we're doing some work in countries in Africa and in Bangladesh where we're looking at how we might be able to reduce the impact of plastic pollution in cities in the global south. We're also researching alternative models, they could be economic and business models, supply chain models, looking at the fashion industry, the food industry and grassroots initiatives, we're interested in investigating the feasibility and acceptability of these models. And as Hannah mentioned, you know, the behavioural change science behind that. So we work with colleagues in psychology and the creative arts to, uh, gather data from citizens and communities about what they would find acceptable, what they think would work well – so working from the bottom up really rather than just from the top down.
Cressida Bowyer We're also researching new technologies, plastic alternatives, improve recycling, the enzyme digestion of plastics. And the other thing about universities is that we can communicate research findings at quite a high level. So we can produce reports and policy briefs, we can publish academic papers, but we can also publish articles in the press and we can use more creative methods too to disseminate our findings, such as exhibitions or theatre or performance. And these can be really important for community engagement. And we're talking at the moment about how we can communicate a bit more about the research that we're doing as part of Revolution Plastics to the citizens of Portsmouth. University campus could also become -- can become an interesting living lab for piloting interventions, especially if the student body at the university are quite engaged with the research topic.
Steve Fletcher Cressida, what a beautiful endpoint for me to turn to Ed. So thank you for your comments. Ed, can you just kind of give us a sense of how the student body feels about plastics and the level of drive and motivation there is to play its part as well in this mission?
Ed Walls Yeah, so I think there is demand. It would be interesting to kind of get some proper insights into just how many students feel that way. But there is a kind of, um, there is an expectation, I guess, for things to kind of be -- to move more towards the kind of more environmentally friendly side of things as I think been kind of raised before, kind of reusable cups and things are definitely sort of part of what, uh, students are really want to be using today. Um, I know I personally live with plenty of students who are really quite passionate about wanting to kind of help out and do their part. I think the issue sometimes comes with just students sometimes knowing exactly what to do. I know like in halls, for example, it's not necessarily clearly signposted, uh, for instance, I'm in halls at the moment we've got a section for recycling in a section for not, but it's not clear what can and can't be recycled. And I think just increasing that communication can really help. But I think there really is a drive for students to kind of, um, as I say, help out and do their kind of part. I think, kind of, trying to enable that and helping to go forward with that is, is paramount.
Steve Fletcher Yeah, I agree entirely. I look forward to working with you and your colleagues to make that happen. So thank you. So that everybody on the panel, I think, who's had that initial question. I'm amazed how fast the time's going. So can I ask my panel or colleagues to power through their answers from this point on so we get through as many of the questions as we possibly can. We have quite a lot of questions submitted beforehand. And I got a running total of 31 open questions at the moment. So what I'm going to do is try and focus on the more local Portsmouth type questions, if I may. That seems most appropriate for this particular event. Dave, I'm not going to ask this question now, but give you fair warning, there's a question coming up about how the city council might be able to increase the range of plastics it can recycle and when that might happen. What's your thinking about that? In the meantime, can I turn to Fay? And what are the questions or a couple of questions have come up around local sources of plastic pollution around Portsmouth and wastewater treatment as potentially one of those sources. Is that something you have any insight into at all, you know, the potential sources of plastic pollution locally to us?
Fay Couceiro Yes, I do. We're actually studying different types of wastewater treatments and how that impacts microplastic release into rivers and on our coasts. So we have, we have a lot of work going on in this area. I'd like to point out for the wastewater, there are a lot of plastics coming through the wastewater system, and that is because we have what is called a combined sewerage system. And it's not just what's coming out of our toilets and our sinks and our showers, but also what's coming off the roads. So what's coming off the roads all goes into one sewer and then is then treated through the works. And what it particularly has trouble with is some of these things like tyre dust, which is rubber and that has plastic inside it. And if you look at microplastics in the oceans, I can't remember, I think it's about 70% of the microplastics actually comes from the roads. So it is coming through the sewage system, but it's road related. There are different types of wastewater treatment, the newer types of wastewater treatment, like membrane filtration, are very good at removing microplastics because they are removing everything over a certain size. Some of the more traditional methods like trickle filters you get in rural locations, not so great. They are -- they are allowing more, more microplastics through. So we are working with wastewater companies to see how we can increase their removal from the water side into the sludge. What happens to them once they're in the sludge then becomes another issue, whether they go to land or whether they are composted and how we break them down.
Steve Fletcher Cool. Thank you, Fay. I'll come to you in a second Dave. Gemma, just a fair warning, I've got a question about why some supermarkets are still using plastic wrapping for vegetables and other items that one might imagine don't need plastic wrapping. And so, Dave, can I come to you, please? So the question was, how can Portsmouth City Council recycle a wider range of plastics and when might that kick in?
Dave Ashmore This is one of those things where that environment bill that I was talking about that has been delayed comes in. It's about infrastructure and updating infrastructure, which obviously costs and needs planning. But we're part of a Hampshire wide area where it gets disposed of. So we're limited to what we've got and of course, if these things are going to come in from the government about pots, trays, tubs, that kind of thing, that are ones we can't at the moment recycle at the doorstep, you know, is that going to come in with some extra money for local authorities? Is it going to come in with the, we were talking about the producer responsibility, is it going to come in and mean that we won't have to worry about things that can't be recycled because they won't be doing them anymore? So we don't want to end up, like, spending across a thing for infrastructure if it's not going to be needed. As I say, we're trying to really look at eliminating single-use plastic and going away from that plastic when there are viable alternatives out there. There's seemingly viable alternatives for pretty much everything out there. You know, you can't find plastic straws anymore, for example, that happened in a very quick space of time. And as I say, plastic cups, you don't find them around in many areas anymore. So, yeah, we are looking at ways we can upgrade things. We are looking at -- we're always looking at what other ways we can recycle things, whether it be, you know, additional bring banks like we did with Tetra Pak, or whether we can upgrade the infrastructure in the local area. But what we don't want to do is obviously, as we were saying, we don't want to say we'll add this to the recycling stream and because there's no market for it, just get dumped or burnt or put into landfill in another country anyway.
Steve Fletcher Thanks, Dave. And it is a surprisingly complex situation, isn't it? I think that sort of simple question with a very difficult answer. One comment I don't expect you to respond to Dave, but one comment in the question boxes is that there is a state of the art recycling facility on the Isle of Wight and there may be some potential for tapping into that capability to tackle some of the more challenging waste issues in and around Portsmouth. But we haven't got time to discuss that. So, Gemma, can I turn to you, please, and ask you around package, you know, why some shops are still using plastic packaging, please?
Gemma Lacey Of course. I mean, I think for us, it's really trying to strike that balance between obviously, making sure that the product is kind of protected, prolongs its kind of shelf life and use life as well. But also we're trying to balance that with making sure that we're not creating lots from a food waste perspective as well. So clearly, there is a sort of mix at the moment in terms of loose veg, but also that's more packaged. And that's also the demand comes from customers for things that are more convenient and sort of food-to-go kind of perspective. So I think, again, this is part of the review and the work that we're doing to see where we can get rid of that packaging at all, completely, or look at alternative materials which make sure that the packaging that we do use is fully recyclable.
Steve Fletcher Thank you very much, Gemma. I'm just going through the questions that are coming in, there are a number of questions about engaging with schools and with children. And I'm just going to turn to Cressida in a mo, so giving you a fair warning here Cressida, one of the questions is what can children do to help? But I'll come back to you in a second. If anybody else wants to chip in with that question as well that would be great. But there are a few questions around would we be interested in engaging with schools and working with schools to talk about plastic? Of course. Absolutely. Yes. Can I just ask one of my colleagues who is working behind the scenes just to put the Revolution Plastics email address into the chatbox? So if anybody wants to follow up with a collaboration or working with you in schools or in any other context, then please do just drop myself, my colleagues, an email to that email address and we'll pick that up.
Steve Fletcher Cressida, sorry to spring that question on you totally out of the blue, but are there any immediate ideas or thoughts you have about how you would engage students – sorry, not students – children in tackling the plastics issue?
Cressida Bowyer Yeah, I mean, obviously it's super important to engage kids because kids are the future and kids can also hassle their parents about, you know, behaving in a better way and actually can initiate quite a lot of behaviour change, I think. And if they grow up with the knowledge about the environment and about the damage that plastics do the environment, then hopefully they'll grow up with a higher expectation from manufacturers for their own behaviour.
Cressida Bowyer We've already started talking about how we can develop a kind of toolbox, a suite of creative methods that we could use in schools to engage kids in talking and discussing solutions to plastic waste. And these would include things like theatre, forum theatre, which is where you run different scenarios, different problematic scenarios with actors and then you invite people in the audience, kids in the audience to come up and take the place of one of the players and create a different scenario as a result. We want to use things like visual arts, so make comics with kids where kids talk about their ideas for better solutions to the problems of plastic waste. But all these methods it's very much about handing the creativity over to the children, really. Music is another good opportunity to discuss and debate ideas, but these also become really valuable dissemination outputs as well. So if we could stage an exhibition of some artefacts that have been created by kids where they talk about these ideas, their hopes for the future, maybe even their fears, their fears for the future, and they become great talking points and they become quite powerful outputs to talk to policy as well, I think.
Hannah Harrison Can I just add, Steve, that around the world, kids are the most -- they have the most influence on changing people's behaviour. So if you have kids, this -- the people that will most influence your behaviour around the environment are your kids. They're a hugely, hugely powerful audience. And Cressida, I love that you're talking about creativity because actually kids just approach this really differently. And one interesting example is around a slightly different topic, but battery recycling. Very few of us recycle batteries and, actually, out of date batteries can become unstable, can be quite dangerous to keep in your home. And we work with Duracell to run a big battery treasure hunt and started getting children hunting around the homes for these old batteries, and uncovered hundreds of thousands of them just because we we could get inside the mind of the kid to think about things slightly differently. And on the creative side and getting children's point of view out there and across is an amazing app called Earth Speakr, which is an art -- a global art installation project – it's Earth Speakr with no 'e' next to the 'r' at the end. Which is -- it uses -- you can use an app on your phone to anthropomorphise the environment and speak your hopes or fears about what's happening to the world. And you could turn a packet of crisps into something that's saying, please, please recycle me, or whatever. And it's all being turned into a big art installation. It's quite cool. But kids, kids, I think are key.
Hannah Harrison But I'd also say there's other interesting intergenerational things going on. So while there are lots of -- while this is a massively important issue for younger consumers, actually the most concentrated demographic for eco-activists is in the over 50s. And actually what we found is that there's an awful lot of, particularly in lockdown around the world, there's an awful lot of learning that's going on with with grandparents teaching younger generations how they've made things go further and 'made do' in the past and, you know, that real thrift mentality. So there's a lot that we can -- we can all learn from other generations and getting and hearing other points of view.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant. Thank you very much, Hannah. The one thing that really speaks to, for me, from both your answer and Cressida's is that, you know, tackling the plastics problem is not just about men and women in white coats and laboratories. It's about people working across all sectors, all disciplines, really to generate the changes needed in each of those sectors and in each of those disciplines, to collectively drive the systemic change. And we still need people in white coats, Fay, don't worry. It's all good.
Steve Fletcher We're just about running out of time. So I just want to make a slight comment on some of the questions and comments coming in. And then I'm going to ask each of the panellists just to give one final plastics tip just before we finish. So prepare your thoughts panel for that.
Steve Fletcher So quite a lot of comments have come in just towards the last few minutes, really focussed on children. And there is a lesson plan, or a link to a lesson plan, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that's been put in chatbox there and information from Alex Levine about the sort of -- what's going on within the courses -- going on within the courses within the University already. Thank you, Claire, for putting in the link to Earth Speakr that Hannah just mentioned into the chatbox as well. I think within Revolution Plastics we are incredibly keen to speak and work with schools, nurseries and groups that are really trying to influence that generation.
Steve Fletcher OK, there's lots more we could talk about. I particularly like the comment from Camille that's talking about, you know, there are other aspects of the plastic problem, not just waste. Absolutely. Totally agree. Perhaps there's a whole series of these discussion events that we need to have to cover all of those -- all the different aspects of this problem. I appreciate we're only touching the surface of some of these problems. Right. So. I think we are just about out of time. So can we just have super quick tips from each of our panellists really about what either individuals can do or individuals can think about to somehow reduce their either reliance or or the impacts of plastic that they create? So, shall we go in reverse order to last? Ed, do you have anything to share with us?
Ed Walls Um, sorry, so I only need to share kind of as a...
Steve Fletcher A top-tip for the student population to a...
Ed Walls A top tip. Um, I think it would just be to kind of do your research kind of getting to kind of understand things from the kind of more scientific perspective, a more kind of, um, what you can do and kind of just focussing on the positives of it and trying to work out where to go next. I think that's kind of really the key, key point there.
Steve Fletcher Yeah. Thanks Ed. Sorry to spring that on you. Yeah. Adopting a positive, optimistic attitude.
Ed Walls Yeah.
Steve Fletcher What can you do? Not what you can't do. I think that that's a really important point. Cressida, what's your top tip?
Cressida Bowyer My top tip is communication. So talk to your family, talk to your classmates, talk to your employer, make a realistic and achievable plastic's pledge, whether it's soap rather than shower gel or boycotting fizzy drinks or sachets – really bad sachets, glad to hear Hannah talking about sachets. And then communicate your pledge to the manufacturers, to your local council, to your MP and explain why you're doing it.
Steve Fletcher OK, thanks. Louis, then Fay. Louis, first, please.
Louis Capitanchik Yeah. So I think single-use plastics don't necessarily need to be single-use if you're creative. The kind of -- the phrase goes reduce, reuse, recycle. Not everyone is in a position to reduce, so the next thing you should try to is reuse. There's lots of ways that, for example, plastic bottles can be reused around the home, you can turn them into planters, you can cut out materials, do crafts with your kids. There's lots of things that you can do at that kind of stage before having to recycle stuff.
Steve Fletcher Well, thank you very much, Louis. Fay, please.
Fay Couceiro I guess a top tip a lot of people ask me about health implications and what they could do to reduce their exposure to microplastics. It's very simple in a way. Have less plastics in your house. What people don't realise is what they have in the house that is plastic – carpets, anything fibrous, you know, fake fur that tends to shed and we tend to get a lot of that in the air. So if you can't afford wood flooring or tiles, you know, lino is better than carpet in terms of releasing less microplastics, fabric sofas. Just think about what you've got, the toys that you have and try to keep them out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight is the main way that these things will break down and release microplastic, so to try to keep anything that you know that is plastic somewhere where there is less light, direct light on it.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant, thank you, Fay. Can I set a more stricter challenge for the remaining panellists to give your tip in two sentences maximum, please? Sorry about that. Hannah, please if you may?
Hannah Harrison Put a recycling bin in your bathroom. An awful lot of the products that we ought to be recycling and don't are in the bathroom, and it's about convenience.
Steve Fletcher I thought you were going to go for a single sentence, er, tip there. Thank you. Gemma, please.
Gemma Lacey It's all about the planning. So plan your shops and so much of what we buy, we kind of end up not using or throwing away. So planning is key to save waste and packaging.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant, thank you. And last but not least, Dave.
Dave Ashmore Yeah, I was going to say reduce, reuse first before recycling. And that's already been said. But yeah, I would say share what you've heard today – good things from the University, from the Co-op, from Jetsam there. I would say use Package Free Lader, they're my heroes. They're along Elm Grove. So, you know, shop there, share what you've learnt, show it can be done.
Steve Fletcher Brilliant, thank you very much, Dave. That's a great endpoint. It's just for me really just to say thank you to all of the panellists for your great insight and for sharing that with us. That's very much appreciated and that's very much ethos we want to bring. We don't feel that the University has all the answers, but we want to bring together groups of people who can share answers and share insight and really support each other to make the changes that we need.
Steve Fletcher Thank you to everybody who's joined us on the call. I think we've had -- I think we peaked at around almost 300 people in the meeting. So that's amazing. We've had over a hundred questions if you add in the questions that we received ahead of the event. So that is, you know, a little bit overwhelming as well. So thank you so much, everybody, for your interest and your commitment to kind of engaging in that discussion. I think it's fair to say this will be the first of this sort of discussion, so please do keep an eye out for more for the next in the series. In the meantime, if you do have any questions or you want to follow up with the University or any of the colleagues on the call here, there is an email address that I think has been put into the chatbox. It's revolutionplastics – all one word – @port.ac.uk. And if you were to email that address, we can forward your messages to all of the relevant people.
Steve Fletcher But in the meantime, thank you very much, everybody, for joining the call. And thank you again, panellists for your comments. So take care, everybody. Have a good day. Bye.