While “plastic pollution” is now a mainstream topic, back in 2014 it was an issue most of the world was not concerned about. To put things into perspective, the daily searches around plastic pollution have increased by 3500% from 6 years ago.

The multidisciplinary women who have been on board have played a crucial role in shaping that conversation and raising awareness about both the problem and the upstream solutions.

Microplastics in Our Oceans

The scale of the problem

There are an estimated 5.25 trillion fragments of plastic floating in the oceans.
Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres Institute, 2014

Before eXXpedition, co-founder Emily Penn was working with the 5 Gyre Institute to investigate some of the densest plastic accumulation zones in our oceans. The findings from these expeditions have helped change the narrative around solutions, highlighting the near-impossible task that would be attempting to clean up these broken down fragments of plastic from our oceans.

Identifying the Source

Waste Management Analysis

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever generated has been recycled.
Dr. Jenna Jambeck, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, 2015
Ambassador on eXXpedition Atlantic 2014

In a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, Dr. Jenna’s research was the first global analysis of all plastics ever made—and their fate. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled. The vast majority—79%—is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter.

Read Dr. Jenna Jambeck’s full report here.

Understanding the Body Burden

Health Impacts

“I tested positive for 29 out of 35 toxic chemicals associated with plastic.”
Emily Penn, co-founder of eXXpedition, 2014

In an effort to better understand the health implications the plastics entering our food chain may have on our health, the crew onboard eXXpedition tested their blood for key toxic chemicals associated with marine plastic pollution, revealing traces of toxics which behave like endocrine disruptors in our own bodies.

Investigating impact on marine life

Entanglement and Ingestion

Dr. Emily Duncan, University of Exeter, 2018
Ambassador on eXXpedition North Pacific, 2018

After investigating specimen from all seven species of marine turtles, sampled from three ocean basins, Dr. Emily Duncan and team reported the presence of synthetic particles in every turtle subjected to investigation (n = 102). The amount of plastic found in each turtle ranged from three pieces to 183.

Read Emily Duncan’s full report here. 

Exploring Upstream Solutions

Analysing Polymers

Over 700,000 fibres could be released from an average 6kg wash.
Dr. Imogen Napper, University of Plymouth, 2016
Ambassador on eXXpedition North Pacific, 2018

The quantity of microplastic in the environment is expected to increase over the next few decades, and there are concerns about the potential for it to have harmful effects if ingested. But while the release of tiny fibres as a result of washing textiles has been widely suggested as a potential source, there has been little quantitative research on its relevant importance, or on the factors that might influence such discharges. Dr. Imogen’s findings have been widely cited and referenced by innovative companies developing solutions to help reduce the amount of fibres making its way into our oceans.

Read Imogen Napper’s full report here.