URI launches ‘Plastics: Land to Sea’ web platform

Collaborative initiative and accompanying site to serve science community with URI-wide, cross-sector research aimed at solving plastics pollution

KINGSTON, R.I.– Oct. 27, 2021– A new University of Rhode Island web platform, “Plastics: Land to Sea,” has been launched to provide the science community with a burgeoning array of data resources and tools designed to inform and support dialogue concerning research focused efforts to start addressing plastics pollution. The platform can be found at: plastics.uri.edu.

Via this public web presence, URI shares its university-wide COLAB (co-laboratories) initiative to actively contribute to solving increasing plastics pollution through bench and applied science and research, as well as a coordinated program of outreach and community collaboration. “Since arriving at the University of Rhode Island, I have learned that its ability to collaborate across academic disciplines and with industry, government, and non-profit agencies around the world is one of its greatest strengths,” said URI President Marc Parlange. “A plastics pollution initiative allows scientists, government, community leaders, and environmental advocates to work together on one of the greatest threats to human and animal health and to the overall health of the planet.”

According to a landmark study by Jambeck et al. published in 2015 it is estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastics waste entered the oceans from land inputs during the year 2010 alone. URI’s COLAB initiative aims to continue to shed light on the environmental and economic reality of plastics pollution as a pressing global crisis. A deep dive into the site provides information concerning the University’s campus-wide plastics pollution research project which engages dozens of URI scientists from various departments in collective “co-lab” activities to both understand pollution problems and pose solutions to them.

Collaborators are the URI Division of Research and Economic Development and the URI Coastal Institute, with significant guidance and participation from numerous faculty and staff working on plastics pollution research and outreach efforts. “Good science informing sound policy is where we must begin,” said URI Vice President for Research Peter Snyder. “This platform demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the multidisciplinary science community can access collectively the information and tools it needs to strategize answers to the pressing problem of plastics pollution.”

Besides supporting the science community, the platform encourages the broader community to access and make use of the information. Community members may sign up for a newsfeed at: plastics.uri.edu/sign-up-for-updates/ to further explore the work and receive project updates. The platform offers concise and curated information and data about URI’s plastics research, including sharing science stories visually and textually, and providing profiles on the people – scientists, staff, and students – behind the science.

“While we may lament the divide on trust in science that the pandemic has revealed, the ‘Plastics: Land to Sea’ COLAB invites the public in from the get-go to learn about the challenges, the hypothetical solutions, and their careful testing in applied settings,” said URI Coastal Institute Director Judith Swift.

Participating researchers describe the work as both ambitious and necessary, with an opportunity for students to engage in critical problem-solving at the ground level. “If we do not know where plastics are, where they go and how they are modified during transport, how are we to best manage plastic pollution or assess potential ecosystem impacts?” said Andrew Davies, URI associate professor in biological sciences.

Coleen Suckling, a URI eco-physiologist, has spent several years applying a microplastics sampling program in an effort to study how the pollution impacts marine animals. “My goal is to help sustain future marine-based food supplies while ensuring economic and environmental sustainability,” she said, adding that a multidisciplinary approach is critical.

The URI Division of Research and Economic Development catalyzes novel research, scholarly and creative pursuits across the university and across all domains of intellectual curiosity and supports innovative strategic partnerships on a global scale. The URI Coastal Institute develops and supports partnerships to advance knowledge and develop solutions to environmental problems in coastal ecosystems.

To learn more about the “Plastics: Land to Sea” web-based platform or the overall land-to-sea plastics research initiative at URI that aligns resources and academic strengths from humanities to sciences and from local to global partners, contact Judith Swift at (401) 524-1427 or jswift@uri.edu.