Globally, around half of total plastic production is used for single use packaging; around 10-14 million tonnes of this ends up in the oceans every year, much of it from a small group of South East Asian countries, including China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Below this highly visible “macroplastic” waste, lies an ever-increasing level of microplastics. These microplastics are mostly invisible and often overlooked, but they accumulate in small organisms and cause stress and harm to animal populations rising through the food chain. The potential for harm could be very severe for drinking water resources and global fisheries, and may affect global ecosystems in as-yet uncharted ways.
Counting microplastics in water and sediments is challenging. Through ongoing collaborative work, a cheap and quick methodology has been developed to map microplastic levels and distribution across a range of habitats and ecosystems. Alongside supplying simple equipment, the network will develop a multilingual video manual to aid its use and ensure consistency of practice for data comparisons.
To address this strategic goal in a region of significant need (Malaysia), the project plans to:
(1) Build a network to introduce new affordable MiP assessment methodology, developed in the Mayes group;
(2) Provide equipment, training and support to assess MiP in environments and water resources across East and West Malaysia (impact through training/capacity building);
(3) Collate data and use it to support education and evidence-based policy making, via a variety of public engagement and dissemination approaches (impact through education);
(4) Provide a test model for how this approach could be extended to other countries in the region (Indonesia, Vietnam). Ultimately, this project could have far-reaching benefits for water resources, fisheries, environmental protection, tourism, health & coastal communities in South-East Asia, supporting multiple SDGs.