Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Plastic Pollution Working Group
unsplash/Brian Yurasits

Plastic Pollution Working Group


Plastic has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives that global plastic production approached the combined weight of the human population in 2015 (Worm et al., 2017). Unfortunately, much of this plastic ends up in the environment as litter, and it is estimated that 710 million metric tons of plastic waste will enter the environment between 2016 and 2040, even with immediate and concerted action (Lau et al., 2020). All plastics generate microplastics and nanoplastics (Jahnke et al., 2017), which are easily consumed by marine animals. In fact, a report by the United Nations indicated that over 800 species have been negatively impacted by marine debris, about three-quarters of which is plastic pollution (Harding, 2016). Plastic has even been found in the human body: from blood to placentas.

About Us

Our mission: The Plastic Pollution Working Group at Duke University applies an interdisciplinary approach to better understand plastic pollution issues to inform equitable, effective solutions.
Our objective: We seek to create a convening space and serve as the central hub for Duke students, staff, and faculty to meet, collaborate, and share their work related to plastic pollution.

As of March 2023, the Plastic Pollution Working Group is composed of over 60 faculty, students, staff, and postdocs across twelve schools and departments at Duke University. Our group is highly interdisciplinary, though group members’ research falls within the eight broad themes.

Work with Us

If you would like to work with the Plastic Pollution Working Group at Duke University, please email us at

Plastics Working Group logo


The Plastic Pollution Working Group was launched in 2020 through a Pre-Catalyst Grant awarded by the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and an Intellectual Community Planning Grant funded by Duke Interdisciplinary Studies. The idea for this group was conceived by Dr. Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Dr. John Virdin, Michelle Nowlin, J.D., Dr. Jason Somarelli, Dr. Dan Rittschof, and Dr. Zoie Diana.

Partner institution logos


Charlton, E., 2019. You eat a credit card’s worth of plastic a week, research says. World Economic Forum. Available at:….

Jahnke, A., Arp, H.P.H., Escher, B.I., Gewert, B., Gorokhova, E., Kühnel, D., Ogonowski, M., Potthoff, A., Rummel, C., Schmitt-Jansen, M., Toorman, E., MacLeod, M., 2017. Reducing uncertainty and confronting ignorance about the possible impacts of weathering plastic in the marine environment. Environmental Science & Technology Letters 4 (3), 85–90.

Harding, S. (2016). Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity. Available at:

Lau, W.W.Y., Shiran, Y., Bailey, R.M., Cook, E., Stuchtey, M.R., Koskella, J., Velis, C.A., Godfrey, L., Boucher, J., Murphy, M.B., Thompson, R.C., Jankowska, E., Castillo, A.C., Pilditch, T.D., Dixon, B., Koerselman, L., Kosior, E., Favoino, E., Gutberlet, J., Baulch, S., Atreya, M.E., Fischer, D., He, K.K., Petit, M.M., Sumaila, U.R., Neil, E., Bernhofen, M.V., Lawrence, K., Palardy, J.E., 2020. Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution. Science.

Senathirajah, K., Attwood, S., Bhagwat, G., Carbery, M., Wilson, S., and Palanisami, T. (2021). Estimation of the mass of microplastics ingested – A pivotal first step towards human health risk assessment. Journal of Hazardous Materials 404, 124004. doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2020.124004.

Worm, B., Lotze, H.K., Jubinville, I., Wilcox, C., Jambeck, J., 2017. Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 42, 1–26.