Visible plastics in the world’s oceans and waterways represent only a fraction of all plastic in the environment. Visible debris breaks down into microplastics, particles of less than 1 mm that are invisible to the naked eye. These particles attract pollutants in the water (such as PCBs, DDT and flame retardants) and are then ingested by animals. Little is known about the volume and distribution of microplastics in the water because no measurement solution currently exists.
Draper is developing the world’s first underwater real-time microplastic sensing system for ocean, river and watershed measurement in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will ultimately be made widely available via open-sourcing. This work has been funded to-date by the Wallace Research Foundation, with a supplement from Patagonia.
On October 4, 2018, Draper hosted a workshop in Cambridge, MA entitled Microplastics — A Path Forward to Action. This workshop convened an international assembly of experts to assess the current state of knowledge on microplastics in the environment and to develop a path forward around measurement, management, and mitigation of microplastics in the environment with an emphasis on the ocean.
The video FAQ on this page, along with the fact sheet with annotated bibliography, represent a curated set of responses to common questions about microplastics, their origin, and their impacts – as the scientific community understands the problem today. We have created this FAQ as a resource of established facts for both the public and policymakers.
Origin of plastics in the ocean and microplastics
Marine plastic as a vector for other pollutants
Plastic in fish and marine life
How much microplastic pollution is in the oceans?
A large contributor to plastics in the ocean is the failure of solid waste management
How can we improve solid waste management?
Anna-Marie works in the US EPA Region 9 Superfund Division, where she is the Marine Debris Program Coordinator responsible for developing and implementing one of the Region's newest environmental programs. An Environmental Engineer for US EPA for the last 21 years, prior to this assignment she worked as a Remediation Project Manager on the cleanup of military bases and also to promote US EPA and US Department of Defense green remediation work. During her first five years at EPA, she worked for the Water Division's Groundwater Office conducting inspections, enforcement and permitting work.
Eric is the manager of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program. In this role, he works to empower citizen action, advance new science, and engage industry leadership to achieve the conservation goals and impact of the Trash Free Seas program. This includes working closely with the Trash Free Seas Alliance, a collaborative group of businesses, leading environmental organizations, and academics, to leverage the power of collaborative partnerships to develop systemic solutions to ocean trash issues. Eric formerly was a project manager with GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
Rachel is the Global Sustainability Director for Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Mars, Incorporated. Her roles include leading an internal sustainability advisory group on packaging, advising and implementing programs on sustainability-related claims, and representing Mars as the co-chair of the Food Beverage and Agriculture working group of the Sustainability Consortium. Prior to Mars, Rachel was the Team Leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program. She was also the lead for this work in India, China and Southeast Asia under the Global Methane Initiative. Rachel spent eleven years in the environmental safety and health field before joining EPA.
Sheila Hemami, Ph.D.
Sheila is the Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities at Draper, where her responsibilities include launching Draper’s Global Challenges — applying Draper's capabilities and expertise to challenges for humankind and the planet. Prior to joining Draper, she spent 19 years as Professor of Electrical Engineering at Cornell University and 3 years as Chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Northeastern University. She is passionate about making the world a better place.
Lou Kratchman, Ph.D.
Lou leads an engineering team at Draper that is developing a field-deployable microplastics sensor. At Draper, Lou has contributed to the designs of several ultrasensitive detection instruments spanning optical, microfluidic, and electronic domains. Lou has helped ensure that these systems perform reliably in very challenging environmental conditions. Prior to joining Draper, he developed novel approaches to image-guided robotic surgery while completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University.
Evan Ward, Ph.D.
Evan is Professor & Head of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut. He is an experimental biologist whose research interests are directed toward an understanding of the dynamic interactions between marine animals and their environment. In particular, his work focuses on the endogenous and exogenous factors that mediate the behavior and physiology of benthic, particle-feeding invertebrates. His research program takes an integrative approach by studying processes ranging from the organism to ecosystem level.
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