Oceans, microplastic and a whole new way of thinking

By Guest Blogger

By LSA Guest Blogger Beatrice Carpenter

The LSA Summer Event 2018 was not only topical it was inspirational, generously hosted by Taylor Wessing at their New Square office with its beautiful green roof terrace which provided a delightful and fitting venue for the conversational hot topic – plastic in the oceans. Gazing out over the roof tops of the city of London on a balmy summer evening one could be forgiven for thinking ocean pollution is a distant problem. The LSA guest speaker brought it right into the room for us all.

Emily Penn, a self-described,“skipper, ocean advocate and artist” and dedicated environmentalist, has been involved on a personal  mission to clean our oceans and rid them of plastic waste for around 10 years. She became an oceanographer by accident, having hitched a ride on ‘Earthrace’ the world breaking bio fueled boat on the way to Australia and after that she was hooked.

Emily shared her experience of that first voyage, of her first clean up project on the islands of Tonga and of founding her now award winning team of all female crew on board eXXpedition. eXXpedition carry out research and testing to uncover the unseen damage single use plastic and the lack of its sustainable disposal is having on the world around us, particularly focused on the health impacts its degradation may have on women.

Emily’s speech shed a light on micro-plastics, the tiny fragments that float along the surface of the ocean, thousands of miles from any shore and shared her shocking revelation that when she had her own blood tested for toxins she discovered it contained 29 from a list of 35 banned substances. While no one can prove where they came from exposure to chemical treatments or toxins released from plastic as it breaks down may well be the cause.

Emily’s energy and passion captivated the room as she shared plans for her next adventure – the voyage to the North Pacific with her team due to start in a couple of weeks. You can follow her progress here and listen to her sharing her stories with Planet Pod on their podcast special.

It is easy to feel that our efforts are somewhat small when we see the grand scale of the damage, but a poignant message from the evening was that they are not. Micro-actions, just like the tiny fragments of floating plastic in our waters, can create significant changes. For a lot of firms only recently embarking on their journey to be more sustainable the focus should be on the small steps. Speaking of steps, Emily, a Parley for Oceans ambassador, shared the success of Adidas Parley trainer made entirely from recylced yarns and plastic recovered from the sea as an example of what corporate commitment can do to make change happen.

Emily’s journey to sea began when she discovered the notion of “Slow travel” across our planet. For her it involved taking a Camel as part of her route to China but this philosophy can also be applied to the movement towards a more sustainable lifestyle. It is when we pause and think of the consequences of our actions, that they are changed.

However, slow thought doesn’t mean slow progress. Although it begins with the little things, it requires making large-scale changes if we wish to give our earth time to heal from the damage we have put it through.

As Emily herself so neatly put it; “Sometimes when you’re on the ocean, the wind doesn’t always blow your way”. This serves somewhat as a metaphor for the uphill battle in dealing with our ocean pollution. It is clear to enable our waters to recover it will involve a process of reversing our mentality to plastic and encouraging people to take action.


Beatrice Carpenter

June 2018

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