Plastic litter washed up on beach with tree

Two decades of research

Working for the past two decades on marine and freshwater projects in the UK, Europe and around the world, the International Marine Litter Research Unit has developed a detailed understanding of the environmental and societal impacts of plastic marine litter.
The global outlook of the team’s research has seen them test numerous interventions with industry partners aimed at identifying the solutions to this worldwide problem. They have published 134 papers on microplastics alone, and their work has influenced both national and international legislation.

Discovering microplastics

In 2004, Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS and his team were the first to show that microplastic particles have accumulated in oceans since the 1960s and are now globally present in our seas.
Their work has shown that microplastic debris is now found in substantial quantities in remote locations such as the deep sea and the Arctic and that they are damaging to a range of marine organisms who ingest these pieces.

Evidence to inform solutions in policy and industry

The team’s work has influenced policy worldwide and has advised governments and international organisations across the globe. They continue to provide the evidence that will underpin the most appropriate solutions to the problem of marine plastic pollution.

Thirty years ago, while counting barnacles, limpets and seaweeds along rocky shores, I started noticing a daily tide of litter, mostly plastic. I kept removing it, but the next day, there’d be more.

Richard Thompson OBE FRSRichard Thompson OBE FRS
Director of the Marine Institute

The godfather of microplastics reflects on 20 years of pollution research and what's next for the fight for global action.
Microplastics on the beach
Plastic production has risen exponentially in the last several decades and now amounts to some 400 million tons per year – a figure set to double by 2040.
Plastic bottle and other plastic marine litter on a beach

Marine Litter: are there solutions to this global environmental problem?

The University's Marine Institute research into marine plastics and their impact on the environment, over almost two decades, has resulted in numerous research findings of major importance, influencing national and international legislation. As well as demonstrating the impacts, the focus of the International Marine Litter Research Unit has progressively shifted towards solutions orientated approaches.
Our brochure delves into more specific details of the world-leading research that our team continue to progress.