Plastic waste in oceans ‘the canary in the coalmine’, professor says

A leading academic has described plastic pollution in the world’s oceans as the “canary in the coalmine” as her university was recognised for its ground-breaking environmental research.

Professor Tamara Galloway said the waste was a tell-tale sign of the planet’s health and a warning to humanity to stop throwing its rubbish into the seas.

Research by the academic, a professor of eco-toxicology at Exeter University, and colleagues helped build a case for micro plastics to be banned in toiletries in the UK.

Exeter was among a number of universities and colleges awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during a Buckingham Palace ceremony.

Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education
The Duchess of Cornwall greets guests during the presentation of the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education (Chris Jackson/PA)

Prof Galloway said after the ceremony: “We’ve been studying environmental pollution for years, we used to find tiny bits of plastic in all of our samples and we had to separate them out and take them away to look for other chemicals.

“And they’re actually everywhere, we’ve not looked at a water sample from anywhere in the world that didn’t have tiny bits of plastic in it.

“What are they doing, and what are they telling us about the way we are treating the environment?

“So we studied all around the UK coast line and we studied every country in the world and we are looking at what happens when plastic not only gets into the environment but the food chain, and ultimately when it gets to us.”

She said about plastics in the oceans: “It’s kind of a canary in the coalmine, telling us the way we’re treating the environment is not correct and we need to stop throwing stuff away.”

Exeter was recognised for the pivotal role its Biosciences department has played exploring the global impact of micro and nano-plastics pollution on the food chain through a series of wide-ranging research projects.

Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education
The Prince of Wales speaks to guests (Chris Jackson/PA)

The academic said one of the solutions was moving towards a “circular economy” where items have more than a single use.

She added: “We used to put tiny bits of plastic into the things we washed with in the shower and it wasn’t until we were able to show in research that wasn’t a very good idea, that that’s now banned.”

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