Plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material. It is cheap, durable, low-weight and versatile, and our building and construction industry, industrial and agricultural machinery, transportation, electrical goods, textiles, medical supplies and packaging are all dependent on its various forms. The accumulative amount produced since mass production began in the 1950s – 8.3 billion tonnes – is roughly equivalent to the entire weight of the human beings living on the planet, and almost half the items made from it are for single use. This results in huge amounts of detritus, which is polluting our landmasses and contaminating our oceans, affecting over 700 marine species. More recently, the presence of minute ‘microplastics’, less than 5 mm across and often invisible to the human eye, has been causing grave concern. These are ubiquitous in habitats as diverse as the deep Indian Ocean floor to Arctic sea ice. They can cause harm to marine invertebrates if ingested, and potentially carry a cocktail of chemicals. Recently, their presence in foods destined for human consumption has prompted concern regarding possible human health effects, which are still unknown. Tonight’s speaker Stephanie Wright is an environmental health scientist, researching this particular aspect of the problem in the Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences Department of King’s College London. She will discuss the whole issue with us, including what can be done to limit the damage and re-align our relationship with plastic through smarter use and better waste disposal of this essential material.
Dr Stephanie Wright – 18.45 on Monday 25th February