A rising tide
Plastic pollution in our rivers, seas and oceans is one of our most urgent global environmental problems, yet it hasn’t received the attention or awareness it deserves. But just one glance at the River Thames reveals this to be a very local problem, affecting the river on the university’s doorstep.
Focusing on a stretch of the river from Teddington to the sea, academics and researchers from King’s Departments of Geography, Chemistry and Informatics have been working with artist in residence Maria Arceo to draw Londoners’ attention to the rising tide of plastic.
Since September 2016, Maria has been gathering up plastic from the banks of the Thames. With the help of volunteers, tonnes of plastic have been collected, cleaned, stored and sifted.
The King’s project brings together the Royal Society of Chemistry and Arts Council England as part of the Thames Memories and the Exploration of Future Dust series of public engagement activities, in a partnership facilitated by the Cultural Institute at King’s. It has involved student volunteers and interns as well as academic staff and the public and has helped to raise Londoners’ awareness of the impact of plastic waste on our environment through an art installation and a science hub, the Thames Plastic Lab, as well as workshops with London schools.
The Thames Plastic Lab, situated on the Somerset House River Terrace, invited Londoners to learn what kind of plastic ends up in the Thames, how it gets there, and what they can do about it. Participants were able to explore and analyse the scientific, historic and geographic properties of the gathered plastic, which was displayed in the context of ongoing King’s research into the plastics found within the Thames catchment. This research ranges from studies of the microscopic chemical components and biochemical properties of the plastics found in the river, to investigations into its distribution patterns and the wider ecological implications.
The plastic waste being studied by King’s scientists will eventually be used by Maria to create a permanent sculpture, serving as a lasting reminder to Londoners of the plastic menace choking the river that flows through the heart of our city. It will also be a symbol of our determination, as a university dedicated to serving the community of which we are a part, to lead the way towards a more sustainable future.
The project is a collaboration between KIng's College London's Department of Geography, students from across the faculties and Artist, Maria Arceo. It is supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s.
Find out more about Maria Arceo's progress here.