PlasticsFuture 2023

19 July 2023
At the end of June, I attended a fascinating conference held at the University of Portsmouth. PlasticsFuture 2023 was convened over three days and brought together speakers from across the world to present their research around, and experiences of, plastics pollution. The team behind the conference are part of Revolution Plastics, an interdisciplinary research group based at the University. The group is an initiative drawing together colleagues from across the University of Portsmouth and assembling teams of researchers, business-leaders, campaigners, and citizens who share their commitment and ambition to transform the way we make, use, and dispose of plastic and prevent pollution. From developing sustainable fashion, to combatting microplastics, they are putting their research into practice, and addressing plastics pollution; generating a globally-relevant community of plastics researchers and contributing to the sustainable transition of the city of Portsmouth as a prototype and showcase for a sustainable plastics future.
Revolution Plastics, University of Portsmouth. Image: Louise Dennis

The three days were split into 6 sessions:

  • Session 1: Microplastics - detection, transport and impacts for environmental and human health
  • Session 2: Exploring the current issues of plastic use within the context of fashion and textiles and the role of plastics in the future
  • Session 3: Plastic pollution in the Global South
  • Session 4: The Plastics That Made Us
  • Session 5: Creative Solutions to Global Challenges
  • Session 6: Tackling plastic pollution: Global Change Perspectives

Session 1: Microplastics - detection, transport and impacts for environmental and human health

Description: Microplastics are everywhere in our lives, in the food we eat and the air we breathe. As research on microplastics gathers pace, it is becoming apparent that microplastics may impact human health and we need to understand how to limit our exposure.

There are currently many projects and policies looking at how to reduce plastic use in packaging but less understanding on how this will impact microplastic numbers. This session will take a closer look at the challenges and discuss possible solutions.

  • Methods of analysis - including data collection
  • Citizen science
  • Microplastics in water, land and air
  • Microplastics human health implications
Introduction: Dr Fay Couceiro, University of Portsmouth

Keynote: Dr Ben Williams, Senior Research Fellow, Air Quality Management Resource Centre, University of the West of England

Short talks by:
  • Dr Sakcham Bairoliya, Nanyang Technological University - The Big Picture: Microbial interactions within the plastisphere
  • Delphine Ciréderf Boulant, Institut de Recherche Dupuy de Lôme (IRDL) UMR CNRS 6027 - Assessment of microplastic contamination of organic fertilisers applied to agricultural soils
  • Nia Jones, Bangor University - Simulating the impact of estuarine fronts on microplastic concentrations in well-mixed estuaries
  • Pei-Chen Lin & Yin-Yi Chen, Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, National Taiwan University - Assessment of microplastics exposure from oral pathway in young adults: a pilot study in Taiwan
  • Miguel A. Gomez Gonzalez, Diamond Light Source Ltd -Understanding how microplastics can act as transportation vectors of co-existing nano pollutants and their interaction within environmental solutions
  • Dr Chunlei Fan, Morgan State University - Effect of High-Density Polyethylene Microplastics on Growth and Survival of Eastern Oyster Larvae in the Chesapeake Bay, USA
  • Dr Judy Lee, Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Surrey - Nano/Microplastic induced membrane fouling and potential mitigation strategies
University of Portsmouth are using the GB Row Challenge to monitor microplastics. Teams of rowers, including former Olympic athletes, row around the British Isles, taking on complex tides and changeable British weather. The rowing boats are equipped with specialist equipment to gather scientific data throughout their journey.  Researchers then use this data to assess the environmental damage and long term impact of pollutants on our seas and oceans.  Image: Louise Dennis

Session 2: Exploring the current issues of plastic use within the context of fashion and textiles and the role of plastics in the future

Description: An opportunity to discuss current issues of plastic use within the context of fashion and textiles. Each year, the industry uses 342 million barrels of petroleum to produce plastic-based fibres such as polyester, nylon or acrylic. This equates to 1.35 per cent of the globe’s oil consumption. Worse still, these plastic-based fibres are responsible for 73 percent of microfibers pollution in Arctic waters and, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the plastic packaging on which the fashion industry is largely reliant, is estimated to make up 26 per cent of the total volume of plastics created each year – 72 percent of which is thrown away. However you choose to measure its impact, the numbers are staggering. This session acknowledges these very pressing issues that the fashion industry and academia is currently facing.

We will bring together scholarly experts and practitioners in the areas of plastic use, materiality and design to share their knowledge and experiences with fellow academics and practitioners. Scholarly, conceptual and practitioner papers are welcomed, especially those that address the following themes:

  • Fashion lifecycles vs plastic lifecycles
  • Alternatives to fossil fuel based plastics for fashion and textiles
  • Recycling of plastics
  • How can plastics fit within a sustainable future
  • Solutions to microfibre pollution from textiles
  • A transition to a circular economic environment
  • Single use plastic in fashion retail
  • Consumer intention behind recycled plastic waste product

Introduction: Noorin Khamisani and Karen Ryan, University of Portsmouth

Keynote: Kate Goldsworthy, Professor of Circular Design and Innovation, Co-Director, Centre for Circular Design (CCD), Deputy Director, Business of Fashion Textiles & Technology (BFTT), University of the Arts London (UAL), UK

Short talks by:

  • Dr Claudia Henninger - Presented by: Libby Allen, University of Manchester - Microplastic fibres released during washing of clothing: the unseen side of fashion
  • Lisbeth Løvbak Berg, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), Oslo Metropolitan University - Textile waste – past, present and future? Synthetics in Norwegian textile waste in Norway 2000-2023
  • Dr Shreyas Patankar, Ocean Wise Conservation Association - Wash cycle design can reduce microplastic emission from home laundry
  • Professor Lisa Macintyre, Heriot-Watt University - Fibre Fragmentation Scale – evaluating a proposed new method for reporting the results of fibre fragmentation testing
  • Dr Victoria Bemmer, University of Portsmouth - Enzymatic deconstruction of polyester textiles
  • Emma Bianco, Pure Earth Collection Ltd - Fashion and the plastic consequences

Session 3: Plastic pollution in the Global South

Chair: Dr Cressida Bowyer - Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director of Revolution Plastics, University of Portsmouth, UK

Keynote: Esrat Karim, AMAL Foundation - Plastic pollution in Bangladesh

Short talks:

  • Professor Susan Jobling, PISCES - A Systems Approach to Preventing and Eliminating Plastic Pollution in Indonesian Societies
  • Dr Fabrizio Ceschin & Dr Nazli Terzioğlu, Brunel University London - The PISCES Partnership Systemic Cross-Value Chain Design Approach to Tackling Plastic Pollution in Indonesia
  • Cressida Bowyer, University of Portsmouth - Creative solutions to global challenges

Session 4: The Plastics That Made Us
Description: Focusing on the collections and exhibitions programme at the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP), the only UK Accredited museum with a focus on plastics, this presentation will demonstrate how by learning from the past, manufacturers, designers, and consumers of plastics can make better informed choices. MoDiP's purpose is to use its Designated collection to develop understanding of the value of plastics within historical, contemporary, and sustainable contexts. Exploring the museum’s objects that encapsulate a variety of uses and activities - taking into account the clothes we wear, the games we play, and the environments in which we live - this keynote will show how valuable plastics, as a materials group, have been when used appropriately. It will also acknowledge the negative impact the poor use and disposal of plastics materials has on the environment and health.

Roundtable themes: The Care and Curation of Plastics
  • Historical and contemporary cultural perceptions of plastics
  • Curatorial relationships with plastics
  • The seen and unseen uses of plastics
  • Sustainability and the green consumer
  • What can we learn about the future of plastics from their past?
Chair: Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan - Professor of Design History and Theory, Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth, UK
Keynote: Dr Louise Dennis, Museum of Design in Plastics, Arts University Bournemouth - The Plastics that Made Us: The care and curation of plastics
Round table discussion:
  • Dr Louise Dennis, Museum of Design in Plastics, Arts University Bournemouth
  • Johanna Agerman Ross, Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Dr Helen Peavitt , Science Museum
  • Dr Susan Mossman, Plastics Historical Society

Session 5: Creative Solutions to Global Challenges

Description: Arts-based methods are increasingly being used in academic research to explore lived experience from a grassroots perspective. Artistic methods democratise the research process and disrupt traditional academic hierarchies, often revealing diverse values, and enhancing understanding. When communities collaborate with researchers to find solutions, the results are more local, targeted and contextually sensitive.

This session will include past and present projects in the Global South, methodologies and workshops.

  • Community-based participatory research
  • The range of arts based methods
  • Working in different contexts
  • Practical workshops

Introduction: Dr Cressida Bowyer, University of Portsmouth

Part 1: The Role of community engagement in tackling plastic pollution

Keynote: James Wakibia, Role of individuals in the fight against plastic pollution

Short talks:

  • Alice Darondeau, The SeaCleaners - The SeaCleaners
  • Savannah Schaufler, University of Vienna, Austria - “Plast(dem)ic:” Materiality, Behavior, and COVID-19
  • Luca Marazzi, Thames21 - Plastic litter has no place in the natural environment – key findings from the Plastic Free Mersey Project
  • Victoria Prowse & Helen Powers, Environment Agency, East Midlands Regulated industry Team

Part 2: Participatory arts-based research methods: Examples from the global south

Keynote: Nelmo Newsong (Nelson Munyiri), Artist and Executive Director at Mukuru Youth Initiative - ‘Impact of creative methods in influencing social change’

Short talks:

  • Angela McDermott, Waste Aid - MASIBAMBISANE: Towards a local circular economy in Mpumalanga, South Africa
  • Nicola Hay, University of Portsmouth - IMAGINE PLASTICS; Immersive Experiences - SEEING IS BELIEVING
  • Dr Leanne Proops, University of Portsmouth - Terrestrial Plastic Pollution and its Threat to Livestock and Livelihoods

One of the workshops looked at how puppets have been used to help to explain complex scientific concepts.  Here we made plastic eating enzymes which break the bonds between molecules and return the plastics to their useful building blocks making them easier to reuse again.  Image: Louise Dennis

Session 6: Tackling plastic pollution: Global Change Perspectives
Description: Following on from the landmark resolution reached at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya last year to develop an international legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution, this session will focus on the progress and ambitions of the UN Treaty. What have we learnt from the process so far? What are the challenges and how can these challenges be addressed? What does a successful treaty look like? How can reuse systems help address plastic pollution? This session will include short talks and 2 roundtable discussions.

  • Where are we after INC-2 (Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee session)?
  • How can we build a ‘just’ transition into the treaty?
  • Transparency and disclosure issues in policy development
  • Reuse as an effective policy option
  • Stakeholder perspectives
  • Introduction: Professor Steve Fletcher, University of Portsmouth
Short talks:
  • Jill Bartolotta, Ohio Sea Grant and The Ohio State University - Partners in Plastic Pollution Prevention: Reducing Plastic Pollution through Public and Private Partnerships
  • Valérie Patreau, Polytechnique Montréal (QC, Canada) - Moving away from single-use plastics, public policies effectiveness and consumers’ perceptions
  • Steph Hill, University of Leicester - Sign the manifesto: Examining corporate advocacy efforts in the creation of a mandate to negotiate a legally binding instrument on plastic pollution
  • Dr Tony Walker, Dalhousie University - Government policy responses to curb plastic pollution pre- and post-COVID-19 pandemicKeynote: John Chweya, Kenyan National Waste Pickers - Leveraging global policy to ensure a just transition for waste pickers

Keynote: Von Hernandez, Break Free from Plastic - How can the global plastics treaty serve as a platform for system change?

Panel discussion:

  • Von Hernandez, Break Free from Plastic
  • Zoe Lenkiewicz, Specialist in Global Waste Management
  • Rachel Karasik, Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability
  • Belen Olmos-Giupponi, University of Portsmouth
  • John Chweya, Kenyan National Waste Pickers

Short talks:
  • Dr James Doherty, Plastic-i Limited - Plastic-i: Enabling solutions to marine plastic pollution with satellite imagery & AI
  • Lauren Weir, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) - Agriplastics and the UK Food Supply Chain: How addressing policy failings and market powers is the ultimate solution
  • Dr Noreen O'Meara, University of Surrey, Dr Tiago de Melo Cartaxo, University of Exeter & Professor Rosalind Malcolm, University of Surrey - Plastics pollution and youth communities: shaping ownership through adaptive legal tools

Panel discussion: Time is of the Essence – Negotiating a plastics treaty fit for purpose

  • Chris Dixon, Environmental Investigation Agency
  • Esrat Karim, AMAL Foundation
  • Tony Walker, Dalhousie University
  • Von Hernandez, Break Free From Plastic
  • James Wakibia, Environmental Activist and Photojournalist

As you can see from the number of speakers, this was an inspirational and packed event with so many topics covered. I was so pleased to be a part of it and bring an historical context to the proceedings along with the panellists I was speaking alongside.

I learnt so much about the people living with the worst of the plastics pollution and the projects that are attempting to reduce the production and use of materials, those that are exploring ways to prevent the waste ending up in the wrong place, and those monitoring and / or removing it once it is there. It was good to see the use of artificial intelligence in a positive context too.

It was the kind of conference where there was so much to take in that you need more time to explore the subjects covered. I have no doubt that I will be spending lots of time over the coming weeks and months finding out more about the many speakers and the work they are doing.
Despite the serious subjects being discussed the event was extremely relaxed with a positive outlook. We had reception drinks on HMS Warrior on the first evening and a conference dinner on the second evening.  Conference dinners can be a little stuffy sometimes but this one had a festival vibe with a plant-based BBQ and live music making it much more suitable for networking.
No need to worry.  The cannons on HMS Warrior are made of plastic. Image: Louise Dennis

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP