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University of Rhode Island Center for Integrated Plastics Research

This project began in September 2022 and is projected to be completed in August 2024

This study will pilot a Center of Excellence to address the persistent plastic pollution through an integrated research approach transforming science collaborations and communications.

Why We Care
All studied ecosystems on Earth contain plastic pollution. It is estimated that eight million metric tons of plastic waste entered the oceans from land inputs during the year 2010 alone. Recently, the annual emissions of plastics into oceans and fresh waters rose to 24 million metric tons and are projected to increase to 53 million by year 2030. Bottles, packaging and improperly disposed of waste from land-based sources comprise 80 percent of marine debris. The remaining 20 percent comes from plastics released at sea from fishing activities and ocean vessels. 94 percent of the overall plastic pollution that enters the ocean ends up on the seafloor. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a substantial increase in plastics production and waste, with dramatically increased need for gloves, visors, hospital gowns, masks and many other types of medical supplies.

Micro- and nanoplastics are ubiquitous, traveling on clothes and food into washing machines, sinks, and wastewater, and with rains, winds and waves into farmlands, down rivers and streams, along sandy beaches and into seabeds. In each environment, the variety of micro- and nanoplastics materials behave differently. It is still unclear what the long-term impacts of plastics on human and environmental life. Microplastics have been found to accumulate and persist within human tissues upon ingestion. There is an urgent need to study and predict the fate and effects, both short-term and long-term, of these contaminants following uptake by cells which requires input from the health community.

What We Are Doing
With growing demand, increased production of plastics and increasing evidence of persistent pollution, the Plastics COLAB was launched to address these complex societal issues with an integrated research approach transforming science collaborations and communications by transcending disciplinary and geographical boundaries. The objectives of the COLAB are to:

  • increase connectivity by convening members from academia, industry, government and non-government organizations in support of addressing nationally and globally important issues relating to plastics pollution
  • expand reach of information through accessible communications strategies and educational techniques to inform and engage diverse audiences
  • strengthen capacity and capabilities by fostering diverse and inclusive collaborations across sector, disciplines and borders
  • advance solutions by accelerating knowledge to inform individual and institutional behavior change, science and innovation investments, and public policies to reduce plastics pollutants.

To advance its objectives, the Plastics COLAB established five key research thrusts and identified initial interdisciplinary teams and projects to invite collaboration. The research thrusts are foundational elements of plastic research, exploring the full life cycle of plastics and include:

  • plastics tools to seed and grow research capacity to advance and accelerate plastics research
  • plastics behavior research to understand and predict the patterns of behavior of plastics in different environments
  • plastics impact research to identify plastics interactions with natural and built systems
  • textiles research to explore the extent of environmental contamination by microfibers and the future of alternative materials and mitigation strategies (e.g., policy, regulatory)
  • plastics solutions to drive societal decisions to support new research ideas, global best practices, sustainable materials, human behavior and investments to reduce plastics pollution.

Dr. Peter Snyder of the University of Rhode Island leads this project. Co-investigator is Dr. Vinka Oyanedel-Craver (University of Rhode Island).

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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