Online quiz aims to bust myths around global plastics pollution

Plastic pollution

A new quiz aims to help bust myths and misconceptions around plastics in the global environment.

Researchers from the University of Strathclyde and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon in Germany have launched an online resource on the eve of a United Nations event on global plastics pollution in Kenya.

The Coastal Pollution Toolbox (CPT) includes a ‘Plastic Mythbusters’ quiz which allows participants to test their knowledge of plastics and discover which popular statements about plastic pollution are true, which are uncertain or which are entirely lacking in any scientific basis.

Provoke debate

The aim is to provoke debate on the topic as countries gather in Nairobi for the third round of negotiations starting on November 13 of the UN’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee. In 2022, the UN Environment Programme voted for a resolution to end plastic pollution worldwide and formed the committee to facilitate five meetings to negotiate the global framework and targets.

This online resource is based on a crowd-sourced collection of facts and myths compiled by plastic experts. Researchers from Strathclyde, Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon and the communications agency Ahnen & Enkel, selected the most prominent myths which are circulated in media reports and frequently referenced by the public. These were reviewed and updated with detailed fact checks for their scientific basis. The information has been peer-reviewed and verified by international plastics experts.

Credit card

One example is whether it is a fact or a myth that we all consume a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. Experts conclude that this claim is not true and misrepresents the state of scientific research. They say that while the fact that a quantity of microplastics enter the body is indisputable, the precise amount is unclear.

The quiz was prompted by a project led by Lesley Henderson, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Strathclyde. The project is part of an Enabling Research programme funded by UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge fund, delivered by Innovate UK, and is managed by the Natural Environmental Research Council, also part of UK Research & Innovation.

Professor Henderson said: "As part of the project I am interviewing households in the UK, Spain and Germany and it is clear that there is a lot of confusion about what we know and don't know about plastic pollution. People need facts which are based on robust scientific research even though I can see the appeal of the bite-sized myths.

Given the current global attention on microplastics and plastic pollution it is essential that we share the latest available scientific evidence on the issue.

“Gamification is a great way to communicate scientific issues and we hope that anyone with an interest in plastics will find this resource useful and thought provoking.”

Mythbusters is under constant development with contributions from leading microplastic pollution scientists.

Hereon Institute Director, Professor Ralf Ebinghaus, said: "The aim is not to downplay the problem of plastic in the world's oceans. On the contrary, dispelling myths is an important step in approaching the facts.

“Science works, essentially, by assessing uncertainties and communicating them clearly.”