News & Events
The hazards of plastic marine debris and are there any real solutions
Speaker(s): Dr Stephen Summers, Research Fellow, SCELSE
When: 27 September 2017 (3:00 - 4:00pm)
Where: SBS CR5 (Level 1)
Type: Seminars


The annual production of plastics has increased from 230 to 322 million tonnes, in the last decade. Of this, around 5 million tonnes reaches the ocean each year and it is believed to account for 75% of all the litter in the oceans. Even more worrisome is the persistence of these plastics, which can remain in the environment for hundreds of years before being degraded. However, the specific risks associated with plastic debris in the marine environment has not reached any consensus between researchers. The most well known and discussed hazards are ingestion and entanglement of macro-fauna. Yet, the chemical composition of the plastics and their physical properties may be more harmful. The recalcitrant nature of the plastic debris results in the long term presence of these pollution magnets, which some researchers are currently trying to limit through the development of biodegradable single-use plastics. But a key factor remains - how efficient and realistic these biodegradable plastics are and whether they can solve what is arguably the largest pollution event we have ever seen at the planet scale.


Dr Summers is a research fellow at SCELSE. His current work is investigating the biofilm formations that occur on the man-made seawall defences surrounding much of Singapore. Prior to joining SCELSE, Dr Summers was a research fellow at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh where he was investigating the risks associated with nano-particles of plastic in the marine environment and how these may differ from micron-scaled plastic debris. Additionally, his research was investigating how nano-particles interacted with biofilms in the marine environment. Another of Dr Summers’ related projects was with The Open University and the UK governments’ agriculture department (DEFRA). Dr Summers spent two years monitoring plastic degradation in a variety of environments, ranging from marine, freshwater and agricultural soils. This involved a series of long term monitoring experiments which have been reported to the UK government to act as part of their strategy to reduce the perceived plastic debris crisis.