Help! “I’ve found chemicals of plastic in my body”

Emily Penn is a women with remarkable energy, passion and sense of adventure. [A longer episode but worth listening to] She is using this to uncover the real facts about plastic in our seas and shockingly in our bodies too! Emily is bringing a smart and strategic approach to reducing plastic deposits in our seas by applying the science of chemical analysis to target the culprits – and it is actually shocking to hear, and yet inspiring too.

Jeremy [00:00:11]1. Hello and welcome to you from all over the world – We are very excited that you our audiance are growing strongly on a daily basis. Please do recommend us to your friends or colleagues as we can see this is the way most podcasts are discovered by new listners. You can also visit our website. which has further interesting information. So lets kick off this episode. ,We have all seen the incredible drone footage of the canals in Venice which have changed from dark muddy brown to now a crystal clear where fish can be seen swimming. There are photos of the Solent waters around the city of Portsmouth in the UK which are now a crystal clear blue. This transformation of the water during the corona virus lockdown has been prompted by the cessation of all the motor boats and ships using the water ways. Today I am speaking to Emily Penn, who is a global sailor and evangalist to make the sea water plastic free. Emily has been sailing across all the oceans of the planet and at the same filtering sea water to measure the amount of plastic particles and micrfibres. She has a remarkable story and actions she is taking.[0.0s]

Jeremy [00:00:28]2. Emily has undertken some incredible voyages and am intrigued to know where such skills and knowledge of sailing have come from. [0.0s]

Emily [00:00:28]I sailed when I was growing up, and so I sailed in one case and sailing dinghies and spent a lot of time on the water. But I never thought I was going to have a career as a sailor. Ryan very much wanted to go and be an architect. And it was really when I finished my degree and I had this job lined up in Australia from architecture. Mean, I ended up taking a boat around the world to get that to avoid flying. [25.5s] 

Jeremy [00:00:59]3. Well I was not expecting to hear that a desire to avoid flying was the reason that Emily is such an acomplished sailor. [0.0s]

Emily [00:01:00]Yeah. Well, that’s how I started. Big, big sail. OK. For sure. Yes. I actually when I was studying architecture, I was really interested in an eco city that was being built in Shanghai. And but it was this zero-carbon city. And I wanted to go and write my dissertation on it, but I thought I couldn’t really fly to write a dissertation on zero-carbon City. So I ended up taking a train, a camel and a horse across Europe, Russia, Mongolia and down through China. And it was actually that journey where I fell in love with slow travel and getting to experience that seselj change in culture and climate and landscape. And people pay me to learn the way I’ve said that is really what then sparked the idea for that voyage around the world to Australia. Partly it was to do with carbon, but it was also to do with not wanting to miss out on everything in between England and Australia. [55.9s]

Jeremy [00:02:02]4.and I wander what sparked this interest in zero carbon cities and the environment.  [0.0s]

Emily [00:02:03]I think I’ve always been quite connected to the world, probably because of my parents and how I grew up. You know, I’ve I’ve always been surrounded by nature and interested in it. And so, yeah, I think just so passion and sustainability, that’s what led me to then look at that city and it kind of grew from there. [19.2s]

Jeremy [00:02:27]5. So it was not a fear of flying but rather a desire to see the world close up that drove Emily to sail. but it is not what your average student would have done so feel she must be a more acomplishesd sailor than she has let on. [0.0s]

Emily [00:02:28]I grew up in South Wales. As I said, doing a lot of sailing says all night ocean a lot as a kid. I actually race for Britain when I was a teenager. And so I spent most of my after schools and weekends on the sea. [13.2s] 

Jeremy [00:03:01]6. For a young person to have a ocean going yacht would cost alot of money and being little bit nosey,  I am intrigued to know how Emily got such as boat, so young  – only to find out she is an skilledhitchhiker, but of an unual type. [0.0s]

Emily [00:03:01]And I felt like more like hitchhiking. It was a boat called earthrace that actually ran on biodiesel. So it was a project to prove the feasibility of renewable energy. And I had just broken the round the world speed record. I was riding a biofuel. Yeah. So amazing by looks like a face for why do [19.3s] 

Jeremy [00:03:21]Yes, I know the ones. It’s not a sailing boat. It’s actually. I know. Exactly. It’s a motorboat. [3.5s]

Emily [00:03:25]Yeah, exactly. So, I mean I was looking for a sailing boat initially and then I came across this project and it was fascinating because of everything it was trying to achieve. And they wanted to now go around the world a second time to visit 120 cities, to talk to schools, politicians, media about renewable energy. And so I basically applied for a job onboard this boat. And the skipper said, we’ll come along for the weekend in Brighton and then we’ll see how you get on. And I didn’t end up going home for another nine hundred and twenty three days. [32.6s]

Jeremy [00:03:59]Wow, wow, wow. So was in that spirit took us some of the different extreme places that you have visited [6.8s] 

Emily [00:04:11]Yeah. So really all the way from the tropics on the equator to the Arctic. And so the extremes would be kind of middle of the Pacific Ocean where you are. Eight hundred miles from the nearest human being. You know, you can’t get to a more remote part of the planet. And then, of course, that’s where I started to see plastic. And it didn’t make sense. But also, I was sailing up to to the optic now. [26.3s]

Jeremy [00:04:40]7. There are very few people who have sailed all the way to the arctic. I am super impressed by what Emily has done, and though I want to talk about her interest in plastic in the seas, I want to hear more about her sailing experiences. I too am a sailor, and enjoy sailing in different places around the world, but I have not done the extreme things that Emily has and want to hear more ? [0.0s]

Emily [00:04:41]And I did an expedition through the Northwest Passage. And so we start stuff in Greenland and then we sailed up over the top of Canada. Go through that passage. That’s only open for a few weeks of the year because, of course, is frozen over for the rest. And then we meandered away. Something for plastic. Throughout all the way over the top of Canada, America, to come out of Alaska, and not many people have done that. [26.8s]

Jeremy [00:05:12]8. The north west passage is almost mystical as one of the last great challenges – the challenge to sail from the north atlantic to the arctic ocean- it is one that also represents all that is shocking about global warming becuase the ice of the northwest passage is melting allowing people to sail through for the first time ? [0.0s]

Emily [00:05:13]I joined another project for that. This is in 2014 with Jemmy Cornell, who’s a cruiser and writes a lot of books about cruising. So he was interested in getting this route and then invited me along to do the scientific side of the exploration. And there were so few people upset. There were maybe six or seven other boats that we came across in that season who were all trying to do the same thing. And actually, the boat that I was on ended up turning around and going home because 2014 was actually quite a tricky year to get through. The passage opened very late in the season. And what I understood from the Canadian ICE service is that the ice was melting, but actually some of the sheet ice from further north was then moving down and plugging the gaps, which meant to get to science that jumped ship and joining an Australian boat to complete the rest of the passage with. [55.4s]

Jeremy [00:06:31]9. an incredible story – and perhaps one day i can follow in Emily’s footstepts. so returning to the planet i wander how Emily describes what she does or what she is:[0.0s]

Emily [00:06:33]Yeah, it’s no simple answer. I often call myself an ocean advocate because, you know, everything I’m doing is for the ocean. And but also, I would say I work in plastic pollution. And that has been something that 10 years ago was the weirdest thing to work in. And obviously, in the last couple of years, now that it’s come to the forefront and people sort of start to say, oh, yeah, that’s the pollution. I know that. [23.7s]

Jeremy [00:07:00]10. Knowing how long it takes to cross an Ocean and it seems that Emily has sailed across most, if not all, of them i am curious to know how long she has been at sea?. [0.0s]

Emily [00:07:01]So I spent the best part of eight years at sea over the last twelve. But these last three or four years, I’ve actually been more land based. I’m probably spending just a third of my time at sea. Right. And so, yes, I guess I call myself a skipper as well as I am out there leading these missions. And what’s been interesting over the years and we can get into the nitty gritty of the last six issue shortly, but it’s it’s kind of had this transition for me where at first I was going out looking for these islands of plastic, realizing they actually didn’t exist. And the plastic was a lot smaller. These micro plastic you’re only ever expected. And then realizing that the only way we can really solve this problem is here on land, you know, you can’t clean up these tiny fragments. And so we need to stop it at the source and say, my work’s actually really transitioned now. And to the impact that I can make is actually much closer to the source. It’s working with industry, with government here on land. [58.4s]

Jeremy [00:08:10]11. Now we also heard from Jo Ruxton in Episode 4 that the plastic island that is talked about in the middle of the Pacific doesnt exactly exist – the real danger is microplastics as Emily has said – and she combines doing the science with campaigning to reduce the depositing of plastics in the sea in the first placethem. And emiy has approached this in a unique way by running sailing expeditions.[0.0s]

Emily [00:08:32]I ran a project called X Expedition Series of All Women Sailing Voyages Looking at plastic and toxic. So we started in 2014 and a bit of a one off mission to take a group of women across the North Atlantic and off the back of that success. It’s kind of grown from there. But the idea is, is that we are taking everyday people to see people who wouldn’t normally go out there. And that’s because the more I look at this issue of plastic pollution, I realise that there’s not one silver bullet solution for solving it. There’s actually hundreds of things we can do and say. We need people from all different backgrounds. We need scientists, but we also need journalists, artists, teachers, product designers, policymakers, industry leaders, all these different people who are going to tackle a problem when they get back home. So most of the people we take on the boat are not sailors. They’ve had all different fascinating life experiences and they also come from all across the globe. Because we realised that we really share one ocean that connects us all. And the only way we can tackle these ocean challenges is with one response. [67.8s]

Jeremy [00:09:43]12. When I was talking to Jo Ruxton I realised that we have a real threat to our oceans and the fish we eat from it. if The threat of plastics in the ocean is about micro plastics and about the chemicals of plastic that disolve into the water then these chemicals could enter the fishes flesh. I wanted to speak to someone who was studying the effects of these plastic chemicals and that is how I was introduced to Emily. [0.0s]

Emily [00:09:54]after I spent a few years looking into the impact of the microplastics and getting into the food chain, and I started asking questions about whether the plastic and other chemicals in the ocean might also be affecting us humans as well. [16.0s]

Emily [00:10:11]And and the truth is, there’s actually very little research that connects plastics and toxics in the sea to the food chain and to us. But I thought, well, why don’t we just skip to the end of the chain to me and find out if I have any of these chemical pollutants that are used in the production of plastic. Do I have them in my blood? [21.8s]

Jeremy [00:10:33]13. Emily had my attention – I was not sure where this story was going  [0.0s]

Emily [00:10:34]so I put together a project with the United Nations. We actually tested 435 chemicals that are banned because they’re toxic to humans. And of those 35 chemicals, it turned out I had twenty nine of them. It only blood. [15.6s]

Jeremy [00:10:50]14. That is completly shocking to hear, and exactly the information i had been wanting to find out about  And I mean, I think this completely shocked me at the time, especially given how I grew up in a moment eating, you know, very close to to the planet and to knowing where my food came from. I really thought that I had avoided these pesticides and flame retardants and other waterproofing, flu related compounds, all these things we were looking at. And so I was pretty shocked by this. And then when I went to sort of start to understand what impact might this chemicals have on my body, I learned that most of them are endocrine disruptors. [30.7s]

Jeremy [00:11:23]15. What exactly are endocrine disrupters. [0.0s]

Emily [00:11:24]Any minute hormones. And that for us girls having these chemicals inside our bodies during pregnancy is really bad news. So it’s actually just not close reading the Times this morning about parabens and you know, you put on your skin and maybe some cream and things and how. Then I’ll come with a warning for pregnant women. So it’s the same type of chemicals that these endocrine disruptors. And so they they can impact pregnancy. But also then I looked at how you could actually get rid of these chemicals. And the only way we ever get rid of them is when we actually have children and we breastfeed and we pass them on to the next generation. [35.5s]

Jeremy [00:12:12]16. So now rather than talk generically about plastics in the sea which is what we usually do, we are now hearing about specific chemicals from plastic or used with plastic.. [0.0s]

Emily [00:12:13]Say they were greif of chemicals that we tested for an article, persistent organic pollutants. So it’s not actually testing for plastic. Back then, there wasn’t really any technology available for testing plastic. There is a little bit more coming now, but these are chemicals that are either used in the production of plastic. So something like a phthalate and that’s what makes plastic more flexible. And we tested for those. We tested for brominated compounds, which are usually used as flame retardants in things like car interiors or upholstery in our homes or the pillows that we sleep on. And then we tested for fleur and ated compounds, which gave great waterproofing properties or non-stick. And so they used in a non-stick frying pans or as Sailas, we would wear them on our Gore-Tex clothing to keep us dry at sea. And then the other kind of group of pesticides and so not related to plastic production, but of course used for food production across the globe. Eventually, once they wash off the soil, they run downhill to the ocean. There is a potential link to plastic. Because these chemicals, they are all like a flick that oil based and plastic is too. They act like a magnet to one another. So in lab conditions, we are understanding that actually these chemical pollutants can adhere to the surface of the plastic. What we don’t know is then whether plastic is actually carrying these chemicals into the food chain when it’s getting mistaken for food. [41.2s]

Jeremy [00:14:18]17. I am very amazed and actually shocked to hear that Emily has found all these chemicals in her blood, but just because she has them in her blood does not  mean it comes from the sea, so to challenge her I want to know if these same chemicals are being found in sea water. [0.0s]

Emily [00:14:19]So we found the same or similar. There’s a whole set of chemicals and in seawater as well. So we know that these chemicals are at reasonably low concentrations. Obviously, the ocean is fast and but we are finding them in the seawater and we are finding them in us. And there is a scientist in Japan called Takada and he is actually looking at preproduction pellets and which is quite standard plastic. And he is looking at what’s it tearing to the surface of those in there in the natural environment. I’m finding that there’s a lot of chemicals that are tearing to the surface. And he did do one study that showed a piece of plastic could actually have a million times more toxic chemical on it than the water around it. Right. So showing that it’s acting as a magnet,. [51.1s]

Jeremy [00:15:27]18. I am now beginning to get answers to the questions I have about how plastics in the Ocean can impact human health via the food chain. I could not before imagine that a fish eatting a piece of plastic which passes through them and is returned to the sea could be a big health issue. But if the threat is from the chemicals of plastic which can affix to plastic micro partiles in high concentrations, then I can absolutly picture these entering fish flesh from fish eatting a mirco plastic particle. Again though I want to know if this has been proven by studying fish meat [0.0s]

Emily [00:15:28]So we know that some chemicals are definitely in fish flesh and so not in the persistent organic pollutant group. But mercury is one of these chemicals that we do find in the food chain and the fish. And it behaves in the same way. It’s persistent and it bio magnifies up the food chain. So while it might not be toxic to the animal at the bottom, as it goes up each traffic level, it becomes more toxic to whatever is at the top. And we know that whales, dolphins, seals have very high levels of mercury in them. So that’s very much proven and persistent. Organic pollutants behave in the same way we do find those chemicals in fish and in marine mammals as well. But what we don’t know is, is the plastic carrying them there or are they just getting those chemicals through other ways because the chemicals are in the water? [51.0s]

Jeremy [00:16:57]19. So if we assume for a moment that fish are not eatting plastic microfibres covered in high concentrations of plastic chemicals that end up transfering into their flesh then I have to assume the fish are filtering sea water through their gills and the plastic chemicals transfer into them that way . Emily explains that this can lead to multiplying effect  [0.1s]

Emily [00:16:57]So from other ways, is the fish simply being surrounded by those chemicals that are in the water and that water passing through them, they’re going to absorb the waste. But also through their food. So you have the very basis of the food chain. And as soon as any chemical is actually in the plankton, the zooplankton and the the animals to higher up in the food chain are most likely going to be taking in these chemicals through actually what they’re eating. And it’s also the same with us as humans. And, you know, it’s unlikely or at least it’s it’s a long chain of events that these chemicals are coming in through plastic as being the main source. We’re most likely getting these chemicals like found inside me and through the food I eat, the world trade drink and the environment in am in. [48.4s]

Jeremy [00:18:02]20. this is feeling like a detective investigation – and now i want to know if Emily has tested the water she drinks and the food she eats for plastic chemicals [0.0s]

Emily [00:18:03]We haven’t. No. I’m one of the challenges with all of this testing is it’s extremely expensive. And we were lucky enough to be part of the study with the United Nations to do the one that I did. And there’s all of these questions like that one that I would love to see answers for. But we haven’t had the resources to do that. And it is surprising how little money is being invested into. And understanding more about these chemicals that. [25.6s]

Jeremy [00:18:29]If you had a wish, let’s say money wasn’t an object. Right now, what may be, let’s say the top three tests that you would like undertaken to get more understanding and awareness of what may be happening. [11.5s]

Emily [00:18:42]So one issue that I’m working on right now is, you know, for X expedition around the world, this current project, we have 300 women from nearly 50 nationalities joining the boat in the next two years. I would love to understand from those 300 women what chemicals they might have inside them and how it correlates to the country that they come from and where they grew up. Because I think then that starts to give us indicators of how these chemicals might have got in our bodies. And we did a slightly broader study a few years ago. And where we have got some anecdotal research, but not a big enough dataset to sort of prove anything scientifically. But it was interesting that we found a couple of girls who’d grown up in California had very high levels of flame retardants inside their blood. And California actually has laws that say, you know, almost everything in your home has to be treated with flame retardant chemicals for the risk of fires. And obviously being a part of the world that, you know, does have a serious concern around and around fires. So they have very high levels. And then, for example, the girls in Scandinavia where they didn’t have any flame retardants, didn’t have any of these chemicals inside them. So we started to see some kind of interesting narratives just from a very small data set. So I think doing that globally would be absolutely fascinating. [81.2s]

Jeremy [00:20:04]And how, you know, how much it took one test cost. That’s a question. [2.6s]

Emily [00:20:08]I think it’s around three or four thousand pound. Wow that is quite alot of money, but it sounds something that is pritty vital to do and so for the first time I will take a moment to say to all our audiance listening, if you know of a philanthropist or reseach intitute that would like to fund a pilot research project on the chemicals in our bodies from what we eat and drink just email me on and I will pass it onto Emily.. and because the  microplastics can be invisibly Emily wants to know whether we have mircro or even nano plastics are in our body passing through our bloodstream, and into our  gut and our .. lungs. But before we answer that, i think we need to get clear on what all these nano’s ad mircros mean [0.0s]

Emily [00:21:14]Say macro plastics is what we call and larger pieces of plastic that we see floating around in the ocean. So that might be a bucket or a bottle toothbrush. It might be a huge ball of nets all tangled up together. That’s, you know, the sise of your living room. It’s also, you know, deep down into the ocean that that tangles up other bits of plastic in this as well. That would be, you know, a large piece of [28.8s] [00:21:43]macro plastic floating at sea. And that’s really as big as you do see. And there is a bit of a myth around these islands and plastic in our ocean and that. But they are there in these accumulation zones. You do get very local areas of build up, build up the plastic, for example, in the monsoon season in Indonesia. And it will rushing to a bay. And you see it all gathered. And that then disperses. as i mentioned earlier, emily is the second person, with Jo Ruxton in Episode 4, who is debunking the fact that there is a large island in the pacifici of huge amount of macro plastics. What is infact there are . The microplastics. And that’s what we find is this soup of smaller fragments, technically, and micro plastic is smaller than five millimetres. So I like to think of my little fingernail as being basically anything smaller than that is a micro plastic. But that takes you down then to one micron. now for all our happy listeners around the world who wants to know picture what a micron is – a single hair on your head is 50 mirons – so as we think of plastic that is smaller than that then is what we call a nano plastic. And nano plastics are extremely hard to measure because the type of technology required to look at something that small and then also to be able to identify whether it’s plastic or something organic is really extremely sophisticated equipment. And so in our research over the years, the first global study in the five guys that we did 10 years ago, that was looking down to 333 micron, so one third of a millimetre. And you can actually see that with your eyes and certainly you can see it when you. Under a normal microscope, you can actually start to tell what it is. [43.1s]

Jeremy [00:23:36]24 sticking with micro plastics then, things that are increidble small but that you can see with the human eye Emily has devised a special contraption  to capture these in the sea which is like a metal aeroplane that is towed befhind the boat and has a letterbox kind of aperture in it and then attached off the back of that. Is this 333 micron mesh net? So it’s letting seawater slowly pass through it just to not see the very, very slowly. Otherwise, you push the water out the front so it’s letting the water slowly pass through it. And it’s collecting anything that’s larger than that sise. And so, you know, for many years, that was the most robust way of testing for micro-plastics in our ocean. And what we concluded from that is that there were about a quarter of a million tons of plastic floating on the surface from from that test. And then some other studies came out that actually showed that eight million tons of plastic every year is going into the ocean. Of course. Quarter of a million versus 8 million is very different. And so the big question is, where was the rest of that plastic going? that is the sort of smart question I am sure you have all been asking yourselves- and I too wander where it has been going? [0.0s]

Emily [00:24:38]say this three probable answers are some of it’s being eaten, but that will be a smaller amount and a lot of it is sinking. And so now we’re starting to look also in the water column at the suspended plastic and also the sediment that ends up on the seabed. But the other question was, has it simply been passing through our nets? Is that plastic becoming so small that we just haven’t been measuring it? I mean, say, since then we’ve been looking under that 33 micron limit all the way down to five microns is still microplastics technically, but too small to see. And then you need mass spectroscopy using a piece of critical Ramón that allows you to then look down to that level. And and we’re finding huge amounts of my crew and plastic fragments and also fibres that small sise as well. There is a fine line between something being so small that it is simply a chemical solution in the sea water and something very very small but is actually a microfibre which you also cant see but still is a fibre. Emily really takes me aback with a new thought the logically comes to mind if you think of the lightness of a microfibre. One of the other bits of science that we’re doing at the moment is actually looking at what’s in the air, because we’re realizing now that all these micro fibres from our polyester clothing and just generally around our homes are actually becoming airborne. And, you know, you’ll notice if you put a glass of water by your bed overnight and you look at it in the morning, you can usually see a few fibres on the surface and they are most likely polyester fibres. You drink that glass of water and they’re in your body at even the time that it takes you. This is a terrifying thought, but even the time it takes you to serve up your dinner and put it on your plate and sit and eat your dinner at night. The amount of plastic fibres that settle on that dinner plate are probably more than any other ways that you’re taking them in. the idea of this podcast is not to scare us with more scary facts about climate change but hearing about microfibres setting on our food is new news,and slightly concerning. I have actually looked at the surface of my glass of water and seen what Emily has observed, however we are here. to learn about the solutions that people are bringing and want to know what emily is doing . [0.0s]

Emily [00:27:04]Yeah. So I think there’s so many different ways you can make an impact. There’s obviously the public awareness piece, which has been huge in the last few years and survive actually being involved with a project with Sky called Sky Ocean Rescue. [15.0s] 

Emily [00:27:59]They started actually going out there reporting on this issue. And then it became something that sky starts to really adopt [5.3s] [00:28:10]they actually took it on and you know, really as a whole of Skye’s business. And then Jeremy Darroch, the CEO back in 2017, made the very bold pledge to say we’re going to go single, use plastic free by the end of 2020. And when he made that pledge. She had no idea how the company was going to do it and that they did it anyway. And on that journey of then eliminating single use plastic from their headquarters in London, setting up a cafe that was complete zero plastic. And looking at all of the pieces in their supply chain, that packaging that they could get rid of it. And they also realized some things that they couldn’t solve needed innovation and say they then launched the Sky Ocean Ventures Fund, where they put 25 million pounds into investing in new innovations. So start-ups looking at new materials, new systems to actually eliminate single use plastic for these places that didn’t get have solutions. Now we are onto something interesting, a corporation investing in a fund to find new forms of non plastic packaging – I wander if anything has actually been invented new from it ?. [0.0s]

Emily [00:29:11]Yes. So there’s lots at the moment that are being developed there. So some of the different ones that they’re investing in at the moment. One of them is called Super PAC and it’s say like a little pot, like you’d expect face cream to come in. But it’s it’s made from wood waste wood, sort of this we constituted with organic resin. And there’s another fantastic one, which I love called Petit Pulley. And they’ve actually reinvented children’s clothing that particular he made made from polyester. And they put pleats in them so that the clothing grows from nine months of age to four years of age with the child. So really eliminating the amount of waste, children’s clothing. So it’s quite lateral ideas as well. They’ve done a lot of work into algae as a substitute for disposable plastic, for sachets, for potentially medical uses. I must invite someone from Sky to talk on this podcast as we need to hear more firsthand from this impressive initiative. As with all great innovations, they usually start by inventors being immersed in the data and from this come new approaches to problems, Emily is pursing this desire and need for more detailed data with further research. [0.0s]

Emily [00:31:23]most recently, our research is actually looking at trying to drive solutions by understanding what plastic is out there. So while we have these numbers, that’s a quarter of a million tonnes, over five trillion pieces, it doesn’t tell us actually what is there. So the piece of work we’re doing at the moment is looking at are they micro fibres that have come from our clothes, these plastics tyre dust that’s come from a car wash off our roads. Are they the preproduction pellets that haven’t even got in the hands of consumer yet? Are they from packaging from all of our disposable plastic? Is it from the fishing industry? And the answer is, at the moment, we really don’t know what ratio of different types of plastics. It’s very hard to then come back to land and say it’s this industry and what do we need to be looking at? The paint industry, because it’s polymers from paint that getting in the ocean. So the way we do that is we have a machine on board called an F T I R. And that allows us to put the piece of plastic under this FBAR machine and work out the polymer type. And that’s in it’s kind of like that chemical footprint that allows us to understand what that plastic might have been useful on land and which industry it might have come from. And and also when you look at the colour and the shape and the size, that helps as well. And then we also do the microbial work where we actually understand what fungi is grown on that plastic and which continent might come from. How long has it been in the action? And it’s sort of this reverse forensics trying to establish where this very anonymous microplastics soup might have originated. [99.1s] 

Jeremy [00:33:10]30. fascinating stuff that I have not heard before or read about and it is vital that this information is made known to the public. [0.0s]

Emily [00:33:21]it’s really getting these stories from these places that are so far out of sight. Out-of-mind, you know, our ocean is the most remote part of our planet and it’s bringing that back to land. [9.9s]

Jeremy [00:33:31]31. the opportunity is to create a band of evagilists who see the issues with their own eyes, and have a bunch of ways they can turn what they see into action, and that is just what Emily is doin with her xx Expedition the piece where I really see expedition heading and where I see the most impact that can be created is actually through these amazing women that we bring onboard. So we have three hundred women joining us over the next two years and they come out to sea. They have this completely transformative experience, both good and bad. You never see as the rough weather, you know, and then seeing the plastic and then working with this tribe of women who have a common passion but different skills and backgrounds to work out really what they can do when they get back home. And they then go back to their households, their community, the country, and start to affect change in very different ways, using whatever skills that they have in whatever sphere of influence they have available to them. And this is where I’m now starting to see and this incredible impact and kind of ripple effect because it’s now going back across the world and it’s multiplied. [57.9s]

Jeremy [00:35:11]32. I wander if really 300 women can make the sizmic difference we need to tackle this problem and what the role of indusry and Governement is in emilys very clear and well crafted plans . [0.1s]

Emily [00:35:12]I think the biggest opportunity we have right now is with industry because it can move quickly. It has the funds to innovate, which the government doesn’t have. And, you know, there’s some competitiveness now around because that public awareness is there. And so, you know, that next step is we actually need more options available for consumers. And because I think there is consumer demand. And so we need those options available. And then, of course, we need government to come along and legislate those new solutions. And the government could actually help us out. In the meantime, to get industry to that level and by bringing in some sort of medium term legislation which actually essentially taxes the amount of waste that a company is putting out into the environment, that it’s not taking responsibility for recovering and therefore really incentivizing industry to act very quickly on putting these new solutions on the shelves. We are really lucky to be speaking to someone with the breadth of experience and intellectual reflection over both investigating the real end to end contributors to the plastic question, but also as you hear that a knee jerk or simplified response as the solution is not helpful either? If we just had a one sise fits all solution that we could kind of real out here, I think it’d be a really different story. But it’s actually much more complicated than that. It’s not about saying let’s replace plastic with something else, because if we replace it with algae, then we create actually a much bigger or equally as big problem as the one we currently have, because you simply can’t produce that much algae to keep up with the demand of plastic that we currently have. And so there’s not a sort of one one sise fits all solution. And so we have to think quite hard about it. And rather than saying, how do I package my shampoo sachet, which I’ll see you in a lot of the world with something that’s not plastic. And the question we should be asking ourselves is, how do I wash my hair without plastic? Do I go to a solid shampoo? How do I rethink the problem itself? And we need to do that with literally every single way we use single use plastic and find a better way of doing things. [58.0s] [00:37:46]INSERT XXXX at end here. [0.1s]

Jeremy [00:37:59]34 I too believe that we have to be thoughtful about how we can use bio solutions to replace plastic, just in case the produciotn of these requires even more destruction of forests etc to meet the global demand. but we need more information to make that switch, i do feel though that to start replacing some areas in a global manner in this way would be a start – such as plastic bathroom products. But then, you know, still once we get that R&D actually then implementing these solutions, redesigning the supply chains, the factories, it’s enormous. And it’s going to cost companies a lot of money to do it. And so essentially, that’s the biggest barrier right now. I really think if there was a simple answer and it was the same price as it currently is for these companies, you know, they would switch. But of course, we invented plastic for so many. Reasons. You know, it increases the shelf life of food. It increases hygiene. You know, you only have to then start looking at hospitals to see how much single use plastic is there every day. You know, it literally does save lives. And until we have good replacements for a lot of that, plastic is going to be very hard to incentivise. Much of the world to shift. [48.7s]

Jeremy [00:39:20]35. Again Emily succintly summarises the real paradox we are facing. That the very material that maywell be infecting us and is definitly polluting the sea and entering the food chain is also the same material that as we have just heard saves lives. i have a feeling Emily will have some insightful things we can all do to reduce our personal impact? [0.0s]

Emily [00:39:21]Absol utely. So it really comes down to single use plastic. And I think getting that differentiation is key. And, you know, the glasses that you’re wearing, the phone that I’m using, the laptop I’m using right now. You know, it all has plastic in it, but it’s designed to last a very long time. It’s incredibly useful. I’m serious. Worry less about that and more about the plastic that is in our lives for half a day, a day, a week. And that we could really do without. So I’m talking about plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups, drinking straws, disposable cutlery. Looking around your kitchen, looking around your bathroom for that plastic me throw away. There’s so many great alternatives on the shelves at the moment. Even clingfilm can be replaced with beeswax wrap and even your removing your makeup. Wet wipes can be replaced with these lovely little bamboo pads that go in the washing machine. You know, there’s so many really easy ways now that we can actually get reusable products that last forever. Instead of all of this plastic. And so that’s, I think, the best place to start. I agree and we have all made personal progress as we simply refill our water and coffee, that we take the same bags to the supermarket and that we replace disposable wipes with washable ones, but I personally find the plastic wrapping on food a new difficult challenge. The huge challenge with single use plastic, I find is around food packaging. And so, you know, thinking about when you’re going shopping, how you can buy particularly vegetables and Fruit Loops, you know, you really don’t need to put them all in a bag and trolley and taking your own bags, of course, to the supermarket as well. And then it’s a case of searching in the supermarket for better packaging. And sometimes you can’t get the product that you want. And that’s the frustrating thing. And that’s what we all slip up and we end up, you know, get buying the plastic. And certainly for me, that’s where plastic comes into my life, is when I want the thing in the plastic. But I can’t get it without the packaging. And I’d say that is where, you know, trying as best we can to essentially vote with our pounds at buying the things that are packaged better and then also putting that request forward to those companies, to those supermarkets and say, look, we really want this done a different way. These are probably the best ways in your daily life to do it. But beyond that, I really believe that we all have a greater opportunity than simply minimizing our own plastic to impact those around us, whether that’s, you know, our household, our workplace, our community, the the jobs that we have. There’s always an intersection point where it meets this issue or in another issue that we care about. And, you know, if we’re a chemist, then there’s ways that we can perhaps contribute to developing new technologies. And if we work in a local council, then it might be around systems and waste management. If we’re just really great at making videos on Instagram, then do that and, you know, do it in a positive way. [40.0s]

Jeremy [00:42:15]37. what we rarely talk about is how we can use the roles we have at work, the hobbies we have or the passions and to use these to affect what is happening around us. Emily imagines that if you are a chemist in a chemicals factory you could think about new inventions or if you work in the local council to create, test and roll out way to reduce household waste, this power we all have Emily talks alot about  And so ex expedition, we talk a lot about the fact that we all have a superpower. We have an area of expertise. We have something that we’re brilliant. And we all have an opportunity to use that skill for something that’s going to make a difference. So talking about super power- I wander if Emily really had a superpower, a power to change things on a massive global scale what would she prioritise ? [0.0s]

Emily [00:42:43]I think it’s re orientating society around a different set of values. This is quite an ambitious wish. But you know, at the moment our society is geared up in a way that is often around making money and progressing in a certain mindset. Having spent, I think quite a long of time on these small islands in remote communities in the Pacific, you realise actually that it’s not human nature to always want more and always, you know, and have this idea of kind of constant convenience and constant growth. And it’s actually very much the society that we’d be nurtured into that brings out those qualities that. And when you go and live on a Pacific island in Tonga, we’ll carry a bus with a group of people who’ve never been exposed to Western society or culture because they don’t have TV or media or Internet. They grew up in a completely different mindset. And it brings out a completely different set of qualities. And so I’m very optimistic that actually we can nurture our community in a different direction and have a different value set that is more around our amazing, magical natural world that continues to blow my mind on a daily basis and and provides constant inspiration for what I do. And with that different value set, I think we will end up making decisions in a different way that will really allow us to continue living on this planet for many generations. Well on that note I would like to thank Emily for a most fascinating conversation and to thank her for all the amazing work she is doing on our behalf as well. We recorded this before the Covid Lockdown but I am sure many people listening now would agree that we have all discovered that it is possible to live a simpler life, with less focus on acquiring things and more about our human interactions, so Emily does not have a totally outlandish wish. On our next episiode is with Suzy Hutomo who lives in Bali and is the owner of The Body Shop in Indonesia who will share how she sees the Corona virus having a possible positive effect on the future environment of her island of Bali. [0.0s]

Emily [00:44:44]XXXX Despite these huge challenges in the research and development and the finding these solutions, it’s absolutely all within our reach. You know, it’s not impossible to figure this out. We’re not talking about, you know, landing on Mars and these huge things that we really don’t know how to do. It’s actually also quite simple. You know, a lot of it is changing behaviour and the way that we shop and the products that we choose. But even for industry, the solutions are out there. They just require a bit of thought and really going off in the right direction. And, you know, it’s a challenge based absolutely within our reach. [35.0s]