Microplastics and synthetic fibres on a beach

Explore our microplastics research

We’re determining the impact of microplastics on human health and the environment, and finding innovative solutions to plastic pollution

Our microplastics research group brings together researchers from different disciplines. The group’s core aim is to quantify microplastics in all areas of life, determine their impact, and develop innovative solutions to the problem of microplastic pollution.

Microplastics research is in its infancy. More knowledge is required on where microplastics are, how many there are, the type and size of plastic and, importantly, the impact microplastics have on the environment and human health. This group aims to answer these questions through rigorous scientific research.

Led by Dr Fay Couceiro, the group strives to enhance our knowledge of microplastics and ensure the public understand any risks that this invisible threat may pose.

Key aims:

  • establish the impact of microplastics on human health and the environment 
  • engage citizens, businesses and policy makers to take action through knowledge exchange and by co-creating solutions to microplastic pollution.

The group works on three interlinked areas:

plastic pollution on a beach

Environment 

We’re researching the fate of microplastics in the environment — this includes their properties, their capability to act as vectors for pathogens or leachates for chemicals, and their subsequent impact on ecosystems.

A patient with a respiratory condition being monitored by a medical professional

Human health

We’re examining the potential impact of microplastics on human health, including the effect on respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Female researcher using microscope during plastics enzyme research

Solutions

Our primary aim is to find solutions to mitigate the impacts of microplastic pollution, such as nature-based solutions, technology (for example electrocoagulation) and policy and behaviour change in relation to plastics production, use and disposal.

Current and recent projects

Microbial transformation of plastics in SE Asian seas: a hazard and a solution (MicroSEAP)

The MicroSEAP project seeks to understand the impact plastic pollution has on marine ecosystems in South East Asia and find solutions to the problem.
Principal Investigator: Prof Simon Cragg. Funder: NERC.

Assessing pollution in Great Britain's coastal waters with GB Row

In collaboration with GB Row, we're undertaking a detailed survey of microplastics, e-DNA and noise pollution around Great Britain’s waters.
Principal Investigator: Dr Fay Couceiro.

Pathogen concentration on microplastics and associated ecotoxicity in the marine environment

We proposed that microplastics from sewage provide a stable habitat to enable pathogen growth and transmission. In this study, clean and contaminated microplastics exposed to faecal pathogens in the laboratory were used in experiments with oysters to determine the effects of contaminated microplastics on oyster health.
Principal Investigator: Dr Joy Watts.

Microplastics in our homes

An exclusive research study conducted in collaboration with ITV’s Good Morning Britain in 2022. Dr Fay Couceiro analysed the quantity of airborne microplastics in our homes and plastic fibres in washing machines.
Principal Investigator: Dr Fay Couceiro.

Microplastic analysis of samples from the Western Indian Ocean for the FlipFlopi project

In collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, our researchers have analysed water samples taken off the coast of Lamu Archipelago in Kenya, to map the quantity, size and type of microplastics that are present in the sea, beaches and mangrove forests that make up around 300 kilometres of the Kenyan coastline.
Principal Investigators: Dr Fay Couceiro and Dr Keiron Roberts.

Microplastics in sputum from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients

We’re working with the Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust to investigate the presence of microplastics in the lungs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma patients. Ultimately, this research may help alert patients of risk factors or triggers for their condition.
Principal Investigator: Dr Fay Couceiro.

SB+Co

We also collaborate with businesses and organisations on research projects. For example, we’re working with sustainability consultants, SB+Co, to ensure our work reaches the places that need it most, and so industry can use the research to improve practice. To find out more, contact Dr Fay Couceiro (fay.couceiro@port.ac.uk).

Recent publications and research outputs

Facilities

Analytical methods for the analysis of microplastics and their impacts are still evolving. The method often depends on the matrix and type of sample being tested. The microplastics research group uses the following pieces of analytical equipment at the University of Portsmouth.

  • MicroRaman Spectroscopy
  • Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR)
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) with Energy Dispersive X-Ray Analysis (EDX) 
  • Field emission gun electron microscopy (FEG + EM)
  • Tandem LA-LIBS femtosecond laser 
  • Flowcam
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) 
  • Hyperspectral camera 
  • Fluorescent microscopy – Autofluorescence/Nile Red 

Find out more about the University’s lab and testing facilities, including our electron microscopy and microanalysis unit and our biophysical laboratories.

Cellular function labs

The School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences houses facilities dedicated to the culture of healthy and diseased human cells to investigate the effect of microplastics on cellular function, including inflammation, oxidative stress and cell death.

The School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science can support sampling from human volunteers and lung function testing.

Microplastics PhD projects

The research group also hosts postgraduate and PhD opportunities. Our Microplastics PhD group includes the following research topics: 

Water and sediments

  • Fate of microplastics through the wastewater treatment process, Serena Cunsolo (supervised by Fay Couceiro)
  • Big Microplastics Survey, David Jones (supervised by Michelle Hale)
  • The role of macrophytes as potential microplastic retention structures in freshwater habitats, Perline Bastid (supervised by Jonathon Potts)
  • Rubber/Tyre additives and road runoff ecotoxicology, Henry Obanya (supervised by Alex Ford)
  • The effects of plastic additives on the health and marine and freshwater organisms (supervised by Alex Ford) 
  • Hydro-Environmental Controls on Microplastic in Coastal Deltas, Md-Atikul Islam (supervised by Mo Hoque)

Air

  • Microplastics as indoor air pollutants, Sophie Ring (supervised by Brett Martinson)
  • Airborne microplastics characterisation in coastal cities, Joshua Ugor (supervised by Mike Fowler) 
  • Airborne microplastics adsorption and transport characteristics for heavy metals, Precious Odika (supervised by Mike Fowler)

Soils 

  • Investigations into Compostable Plastic Wastes, Anita Carey (supervised by Muhammad Ali)

Discover more plastics research

Explore our Revolution Plastics initiative and the research we're conducting within our Centre for Enzyme Innovation, Centre for Blue Governance and the Global Plastics Policy Centre.