A DIT research team is working on a series of education initiatives to empower young people and local communities across Ireland to tackle the threat of microplastics for marine life and coastal areas.

The Irish Microplastic Awareness and Coastal Threats (IMPACT) project will host interactive science workshops in schools and community organisations, will offer support to develop and implement action plans to combat personal plastic waste, and will present an annual showcase in DIT to highlight microplastic mini-projects and local awareness campaigns.

Professor Gordon Chambers, one of the Principal Investigators on the project, says, “Societies addiction to single use plastic is driving a spiral of destruction for our planetary ecosystem on a scale comparable to climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity and ocean acidification. Now more important than ever we need to change our attitude to plastic waste. Our project aims to empower local communities to develop and design their own initiatives to meet the challenge facing us all.”

Plastic is not biodegradable so over time litter such as bottles and bags are broken down into smaller pieces called microplastics. These tiny fragments are easily spotted on our beaches as colourful specks in the sand. Microplastics also originate from microscopic plastic beads which are often added to household products like face washes and detergents. These tiny beads are then washed out to sea.

Ireland is the top producer of plastic waste in Europe, with an average of 61kg per person every year. That’s almost double what our neighbours in the UK produce.

“Much of Ireland’s plastic waste ends up in the sea and causes significant harm to marine life – from tiny snails to humpback whales,” says Professor Chambers.

Marine animals often mistake microplastics for food which can lead to reduced feeding rates resulting in starvation and interference with reproductive cycles. Plastics can also make it into the human food supply and have been found in fish, drinking water, honey and sugar.

Dr Michelle Giltrap and Dr Siobhan Daly complete the DIT team with unparalleled expertise in environmental science and public engagement. The team, along with partners from professional bodies and the corporate world, are passionate about bringing science to life and raising awareness of the damaging impact microplastics have on our coasts.

The IMPACT project is an initiative of DIT and is supported by Science Foundation Ireland under the Discover Funding Programme, which seeks to promote the awareness and engagement of the Irish public with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Source: DIT