Podcast 16: Helena Ruffell: Microplastics from New Zealand Wastewater Treatment Plants and in Our Oceans
International research has made alarming discoveries about the pervasive nature of microplastic pollution in soil, waterways and the ocean, and revealed uncomfortable truths about how our everyday activities contribute to this problem. You may have read or heard about some of this research, but have you ever wondered how much these kinds of findings apply in the New Zealand context?
Helena Ruffell is a Masters student of Environmental Science at the University of Canterbury. Her research is analysing whether New Zealand’s wastewater treatment plants are a source of microplastics into our environment. It’s the first study of its kind in New Zealand and has already produced data and findings that demonstrate that our wastewater is indeed a concerning source of plastic pollution for the land and waterways that effluent is discharged on to.
Helena was also one of the scientists analysing plastics collected by a trawl run off the waka Te Matau a Māui as it sailed down the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island in early 2018. This was a collaborative scientific research project (involving Algalita South Pacific, Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust, 5Gyres, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research), which set out to analyse microplastic pollution in the South Pacific. The trawl collected alarming amounts of plastic from the New Zealand waters through which it sailed, which Helena subsequently analysed in her lab in Christchurch.
In this podcast we chat with Helena about some of her preliminary findings, and the implications they have for our lives and policy. Should we be worried about microplastic pollution in New Zealand? If so, what can we do about our microplastic footprint?