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Microplastics: Knowledge, measures and solutions

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Join the fourth seminar in our Environmental Science Series to learn about Microplastics: Knowledge, measures and solutions.

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Join Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) for our fourth Environmental Science Seminar Series of 2021.

Our Environmental Science Series explores topics that affect everyday Victorians. These free talks focus on environmental issues that impact our lives and how science can help.

Microplastics: Knowledge, measures and solutions

The ocean is a source of food, oxygen, inspiration, and jobs. It connects all continents and regulates our climate. Despite its vital importance, large volumes of plastic waste enter aquatic ecosystems every year. A recent study found that emissions of plastic waste to the environment are predicted to rise and may reach up to 53 million metric tons per year by 2030.

Small pieces of plastic, called ‘microplastics’, are increasingly becoming an environmental challenge. Microplastics can be found across the globe: in the gut of seabirds and the planet’s most remote locations, such as deep-sea sediments. A survey of plastic debris in Australian coastal waters estimated that more than 4000 pieces of plastic per km2 littered the ocean surface. These plastics were predominantly small fragments resulting from the breakdown of larger plastic items.

As Victoria’s environmental regulator, EPA’s role is to protect the environment and human health from harm due to pollution and waste. Solutions to the issue of microplastic pollution are highly complex. Understanding the dynamics of where microplastics come from and how they are transported in the environment will help to guide the regulation of this complex and diverse pollutant.

EPA's Chief Environmental Scientist, Professor Mark Patrick Taylor, will host special guest speakers Dr Mark Browne of the University of New South Wales and Dr Denise Hardesty from CSIRO to further explore the challenges of microplastics. Our guest speakers will outline the issues, present their research and highlight the importance of science to enhance our understanding and response to these microplastics.

Host: Professor Mark Patrick Taylor, Chief Environmental Scientist, Environment Protection Authority Victoria 

Professor Taylor’s research expertise has a special focus on ‘human environments’ including analysis of blood lead levels in children, firefighter chemical exposures, trace metals in bees, chickens, wine, honey, residential veggie patches, household dusts, microplastics and drinking water. He designed two national citizen programs measuring thousands of samples for trace metals in garden soil and house dust (www.360dustanalysis.com; www.mapmyenvironment.com) Topical research includes assessment of atmospheric trace metal emissions from wildfires and microplastics in Australian homes.

He has completed several commissions for government in recent years:

  • a review of the NSW EPA’s management of contaminated sites for the NSW Minister for the Environment, focussing on perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) and their management;
  • a review of lead in plumbing fittings and materials for the Australian Building Codes Board; and
  • a science review for NSW EPA’s Broken Hill Environmental Lead Program regarding childhood lead exposures.

Special Guest Speaker: Dr Mark Browne, Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales

Over the last 15 years, Mark has published ground-breaking research on global contamination of marine habitats by microplastic pollution. His research team has demonstrated that an abundant type of plastic pollution is clothing fibres, and that washing a single garment adds thousands of these fibres to wastewater.

Mark’s research was first to show that ingested microplastics accumulate in the gut of marine invertebrates (mussels) and that ingesting microplastic can transfer other pollutants and plastic additives.

Through his research he has shown that policy about plastic debris is scientifically outdated and, if countries classified the most harmful plastics as hazardous, their environmental agencies could conserve greater levels of biodiversity by having the power to restore affected habitats and prevent more dangerous debris from accumulating.

Special Guest Speaker: Dr Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere

Dr Denise Hardesty is a senior principal research scientist for CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, leading a portfolio of plastics-related projects. A broadly trained ecologist, her current work focuses on plastic pollution and marine monitoring and surveillance to reduce illegal fishing. Denise’s team takes a risk-based approach to addressing plastic impacts on wildlife, people, and economies. Her work also focuses on drivers for litter losses into the environment, how to identify and implement effective policies to reduce plastic entering the environment, and gear loss from fisheries. She promotes the role of science to inform policy and decision-making, and regularly provides science advice to governments and international panels. She believes strongly in the contribution of communities, having worked with more than 8000 citizen scientists to help tackle global challenges.

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Organiser EPA Victoria

Organiser of Microplastics: Knowledge, measures and solutions

At EPA Victoria (EPA), our main objective is to keep Victoria prosperous and liveable by preventing and reducing harm from pollution and waste. This is achieved by holding polluters to account, and helping people to understand, own and address their harmful impacts on the environment.

We work closely with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Sustainability Victoria (SV), to develop environment protection policy and legislation to deliver programs that support environmental protection.

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