This is the third in a series of free events throughout 2021 developed by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Science Policy Unit, exploring current issues around plastic production, use, reuse and disposal. This webinar was jointly organised with the Microbiology Society.

We have all seen images of plastic in our oceans and washed up on our beaches. In fact, The Pew Charitable Trusts report that 11 million metric tons of plastic was leaked into the ocean in 2016.

The existing plastics lifecycle, from starting materials to waste, is complex and there are many areas for improvement. Scientists are looking for solutions across the lifecycle.

One area of study is the detection and measurement of existing pollution, and its impact on the environment and ecosystem. This could be detecting and characterising macro-, micro- and nano-plastics, or investigating how the waste interacts with and becomes part of microbial processes.

Scientists can also take inspiration from the workings of the natural world to find innovative solutions for dealing with our plastic waste. For example, microbes are now part of the tool kit in the technical side of the circular economy, where microbial enzymes can degrade plastics and microbes can convert those monomers to value-added products.

One thing is clear, that humanity’s reliance on this highly useful material is having lasting impacts on the natural environment.

For this webinar the RSC teamed up with the Microbiology Society to explore the impacts that plastic has on our environment, and the ways that microbial processes can be used to recycle and upcycle plastic.

Our speakers discuss:

  • Enzyme recycling of plastic waste, and the potential to form a bioeconomy for plastics
  • The ‘plastisphere’, the microbiological communities that live on plastics
  • How chemists sample and detect microplastics in water

Tanja Narancic

Speaker: Tanja Narancic

Tanja Narancic is a PI and an Assistant professor at the School of biomolecular and biomedical science, University College Dublin, Ireland, and an academic collaborator in BiOrbic, a world-leading Science Foundation Ireland funded research centre devoted to the bioeconomy. Her research focuses on elucidating the metabolism of bacteria, and using this knowledge and synthetic biology tools to exploit bacteria to make high value products. More information about her work is available here.

Robyn Wright

Speaker: Robyn Wright

Robyn Wright completed her PhD in marine microbial community dynamics with a focus on plastic and plastic additive degradation at the University of Warwick in 2019. She was then awarded a six-month Association of Commonwealth Universities Blue Charter Fellowship, allowing her to carry out a meta-analysis of all plastisphere studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Since then, she has been looking at the microbiome more generally as an I3V-DMRF Dr. David H. Hubel postdoctoral fellow in Morgan Langille’s group at Dalhousie University. This has included some projects on COVID-19, the saliva or blood microbiomes associated with various diseases and the soil microbiome as well as some plastisphere metagenome studies.

Jesus Javier Ojeda

Speaker: Jesús Javier Ojeda

Dr Jesús Javier Ojeda is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Swansea University. One of his main research interests focuses on plastic and microplastic analysis, plastic degradation (including biodegradation), and the sampling, identification and quantification of plastics and microplastics in complex environmental matrices (such as wastewater and biosolids) and their changes over time. His research includes the use of modern potentiometric and spectroscopic tools (such as ToF-SIMS, micro-FTIR, XPS, EXAFS) to describe these systems.

RSC and Microbiology society logos

Chemistry World and the Science Policy Unit at the Royal Society of Chemistry are proud to offer this series of webinars to promote scientific debate around particular areas of plastics.

The Science Policy Unit sits within the Policy and Evidence team, coordinating programmes around sustainability and health. We aim to improve the quality of scientific evidence in policy making, and show the positive impact of chemistry in solving global challenges.

This webinar has been organised in collaboration with the Microbiology Society.