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As part of the Springer Nature campaign for Sustainable Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation - Microplastic Pollution in Water, we asked our editors how do they address SDG6. Read the interviews below. 

SDG6 - Interviews with the Editors of Microplastics and Nanoplastics

Interview with François Galgani

   

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Prof. François Galgani

Laboratoire Environnement Ressources Provence-Azur-Corse (PDG-ODE-LITTORAL-LERPAC), France

Editor of Microplastics and Nanoplastics


How have you and/or do you work directly to address Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation?   

As an oceanographer, I am focusing on SDG 14.1.1 (marine pollution/ plastics pollution). Clear water (SDG 6) is, however, a prerequisite for a clean ocean (SDG14). The story has shown that the work done for the oceans (methods, degradation, fate, impacts, etc.), helps a lot for freshwaters. 

What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

Improve, upscale, develop the Tertiary (specific to each pollutant) treatment in Waste Water Treatment Plants, to clean/reuse waters and limit pollution and human health impacts. Treatment of water for microplastics is an example, and a challenge for the years to come, as MPs represent a substantial part of drinking waters and a pathway for ingested microplastics by human and  

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy-makers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

Providing background information (amounts, distribution, fate, modelling, degradation, impacts, etc.), implementing coordinated monitoring to support reduction measures that must be legally bound, and finding original solutions (new 100% recyclable materials, fast detection, etc.).

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

When relevant, information on any progress made in the field, about understanding, solutions, reduction tools, policies, etc. must be made available to the general public, because plastic pollution is simple to understand, visible, and is everyday's life. It must be noted that the public is very receptive, and research on Plastic pollution is incredibly supported by the public. This largely links with the work done by NGO's and citizen science, which is much appreciated and typical of this research topic.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

It never ends, but established global monitoring of plastic pollution in the oceans and waters, the full understanding of the cycling of plastic in the environment and, for the long term, zero inputs in waters, are relevant goals.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6? 

No more chemicals, nor microplastics, in drinking waters and fish!



Interview with Tim van Emmerik

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Tim van Emmerik, Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Editor of Microplastics and Nanoplastics


How have you and/or do you work directly to address Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation?

SDG6 includes workings towards clean water and sustainable water resources management. Plastic-free rivers and lakes is an important part of that goal. At WUR we aim at developing monitoring methods to quantify the state of plastic pollution in freshwater bodies. Such observations are crucial to optimize plastic pollution prevention, mitigation and reduction strategies.

What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

The best measure of success is to quantify the rate of change, for example, the reduction of plastic emissions from rivers into the ocean, or plastic concentrations on riverbanks. To quantify change, it is crucial to have an estimate of the state of plastic pollution at multiple moments in time, and ideally before and after an intervention. For this, we need reliable baseline assessments of the current pollution levels, and unfortunately, these are missing in most places. To be able to measure success, we should start measuring the state of plastic pollution at this very moment, right now.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policymakers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

I believe in co-creation through joint research projects. As a researcher, you don’t want to just observe a system from the side, and when you’re done run back and hide in your office. Through the active involvement of stakeholders and policymakers, you make optimal use of local knowledge of the system of interest (a specific river basin, city, country), and can directly disseminate the results of the project. As a result, policymakers don’t have to wait until your paper is finally published someday in the future, but can directly act based on the project’s findings.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

In the field of freshwater macroplastic pollution, there are many successful examples of upscaling monitoring efforts through citizen science. In Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, hundreds to thousands of citizens, schoolkids and stakeholders have contributed to data collection in and around rivers. In addition to the scientific importance of these observations, the participants are made aware of the negative impact of plastic pollution on human livelihood and ecosystem health.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

In my current project, The River Plastic Monitoring Project, I aim to develop a framework to harmonize macroplastic monitoring strategies. When the project ends, I hope that this project will have contributed to consistent plastic monitoring over time and space. To make it more practical, this means that it shouldn’t matter if you use sampling nets or hyperspectral imagery to measure plastics. And it shouldn’t matter if you measure in the Netherlands or in Vietnam. The collected data can still be used to address the same scientific and societal challenges. In the long-term, my goal is to better understand what factors determine the accumulation of plastics in river systems. If we know that, we don’t have to track each plastic item individually, but can already estimate likely locations for plastic pollution to accumulation based on GIS and remote sensing data.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6?

Harmonized and consistent approaches across borders. Rivers, lakes and oceans are transboundary, and so should be our efforts to keep them healthy.

Interview with Lesley Henderson

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Lesley HendersonJournalism, Media and Communication, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK

Editor of Microplastics and Nanoplastics


How have you and/or do you work directly to address Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation?

As Group Leader of the Sustainable Plastics Research group at Brunel University London I am leading a programme that focuses on the strategic challenge areas (‘Health’, ‘Communities’ and ‘Sustainability’).  Especially my research adopts a social science approach to the problem of plastic pollution and contributes to SD6. This topic area is directly relevant as my background lies in media and communications. Few could argue that media have played a key role in bringing the problem of plastic pollution to public and policy attention. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 focused on the blight of plastic waste with a central focus on marine pollution (SDG14). The extent of plastic pollution on land (SDG15) and air are also being identified, and there are concerns about how the ubiquity of plastic items, plastic debris and particles in our daily lives may in turn impact human health (SDG3). At the same time, plastic has beneficial uses such as reducing food loss (and therefore contributing to food security, SDG2) or for single-use protective equipment such as during the current Covid-19 pandemic (SDG3). Identifying the trade-offs between deleterious impacts and benefits, and uncovering sustainable solutions requires engaging with a diversity of actors and stakeholders including industry, policymakers and consumers (SDG12, SDG17).


What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

My approach uses qualitative research to unpack how people make sense of scientific information and which tools they draw upon. In that regard, I am interested in how narratives may have changed and the role of media in shifting cultural ideas about appropriate or ‘normal’ behaviour especially when it comes to polluting behaviour.

We work closely with natural and material scientists who have different metrics to measure success and contribute to their goals as a collective which is really what is required with a problem as complex as plastics pollution.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policymakers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

Researchers need to learn better ways of communicating with different publics. Policymakers require clear concise communication and being open about any limitations to the existing research is crucial. I have had very positive experiences with policy engagement most recently on the SAPEA Expert working group on microplastics and nanoplastics. A fascinating insight to developing policy options involving the world’s leading scientists from natural and social /behavioural sciences. I also helped produce recommendations for DEFRA concerning UK marine litter and I am co-author on the UN Environment Program International Resource Panel Policy Options to Eliminate Additional Marine Plastic Litter by 2050. This was commissioned by the Government of Japan to support the delivery of the G20 Osaka Blue Vision.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

I am absolutely committed to public engagement and I am a University Public Engagement Champion. I have shared my work regularly with journalists, public audiences and non-specialist audiences through talks at festivals and even in night clubs! I also write regularly for blogs such as The Conversation and British Medical Journal and was one of the editors at Cost of Living which is funded by the BSA to bring Sociological perspectives to wider audiences. See for example https://www.cost-ofliving.net/solving-the-problem-of-plastic-pollution-beyond-the-natural-sciences/

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

In the short term, I am helping to address public understandings of plastic pollution and examine the social practices which underpin how different groups of people interact with plastics and waste. Currently, I am involved in projects which address satellite imaging (European Space Agency) perceptions of plastics packaging in the UK and Europea ( UKRI, NERC, Innovate UK) and a large multidisciplinary project addressing plastic pollution in Indonesia where I am leading work on communications and social change.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6?

Greater cooperation and interdisciplinarity is crucial to addressing the SDGs which are interrelated in complex ways. To properly meet those challenges we require new innovative thinking around what we do and how we do it.

Interview with Chelsea Rochman

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Chelsea RochmanDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Toronto, Canada

Editor of Microplastics and Nanoplastics

Please also read the full interview featured on the SN campaign website here.

How have you and/or do you work directly to address Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation?

My research works to address clean water. I research microplastic pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems. We work to understand the sources, fate and effects. We ask questions that can inform policy – e.g., we determine the pathways bringing microplastics into aquatic ecosystems. We examine wastewater, agricultural runoff, urban runoff, and industrial effluent. Understanding these pathways can help us mitigate them as a source of microplastics to the environment. By understanding effects, we can inform risk thresholds – directly linked to informing policy.

What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

For microplastics, long-term monitoring programs can measure whether we see a reduction in emissions and contamination.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy makers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

For researchers, it is important that we work to get our work beyond the academic sphere. This can look like outreach to policy-makers, policy briefings, serving as an expert witness, etc… We do this in many ways through community education, scientific outreach, and via social and traditional media. My most productive experiences have been with outreach directly to policy-makers to share the scientific evidence that may inform decisions that make positive change.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

I think whether or not to engage is up to the researcher, but I think it’s very important that some researchers do engage. Who better to explain our research than us, and when we are working on applied work it is important that our work informs decision-making. I think science needs a seat at the policy table, and by engaging, we can help ensure we continue to get that seat.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

My short-term goals are to continue to better understand microplastics as a contaminant in aquatic ecosystems and to share that work with practitioners. My long-term goals are to see the measurable change that leads to healthier and cleaner water.

What progress would you like to see next towards addressing SDG6?

 I’d like to see measurable change in terms of protecting our waterways. This is critical for biodiversity and human health. I’d like to see more monitoring of contaminants and risk assessments that inform management decisions. I’d like to see us achieve our targets so that we can create new goals for continued improvement and protection of aquatic systems.



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