From its reliance on fossil fuels to the waste littering our oceans, plastic is a problem requiring innovative solutions. Our stories take a fresh look at how scientists and researchers are working to find eco-friendly alternatives and design solutions to tackle plastic pollution, clean our seas and redefine the role plastic plays in our everyday lives. We also cover crucial policy developments and the issues shaping the conversation about plastic.
An estimated 5.25 trillion particles of plastic float in Earth’s oceans, threatening not only the health of marine ecosystems and animals, but that of humans in the water we drink and the food we eat. However, research into the extent of the dangers posed by microplastics is still just in its infancy.
A fashion collection made from the remains of grapes from the wine industry and plastic made from chicken feathers are two new twists on the practice of making new products from waste, and a growing demand for sustainability from consumers mean there could be a ready market for this type of innovation.
Smart recycling containers that reward people for proper use could help drive up the rate of plastic recycling, reducing the amount of plastic that goes into oceans and landfill, and creating business opportunities out of the challenge to cut back on waste.
Milk-based edible food packaging and ready-meal trays made from wood could help reduce the pervasiveness of single-use plastic, a major cause of environmental pollution adversely affecting wildlife, habitats and human health.
Tiny pieces of plastic, now ubiquitous in the marine environment, have long been a cause of concern for their ability to absorb toxic substances and potentially penetrate the food chain. Now scientists are beginning to understand the level of threat posed to life, by gauging the extent of marine accumulation and tracking the movement of these contaminants.
A Roomba-like ocean trash collector modelled on a whale shark and a microplastic filter made from jellyfish slime could prevent litter from entering our oceans and help tackle a growing problem that poses threats to wildlife, deters tourists and impacts on coastal economies.
The deepest parts of the ocean were once assumed to be pristine, but recent discoveries of chemicals and radioactive products at the bottom of underwater trenches has shown that humanity’s footprint extends to the furthest reaches of the earth – and it could affect the balance of oxygen in the oceans and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
How did European eating habits go so wrong? We have a plentiful supply of fresh food yet, according to Eurostat, one in every two people in Europe is either overweight or obese, leading to problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and lifestyle-related diabetes. In May, we delve into the complex science of healthy eating to understand how to tackle modern-day malnutrition. We speak to public health expert Knut-Inge Klepp about the complex factors determining food choice and how to improve the diet of teenagers. We find out how scientists are working to improve the zinc content of crops to prevent the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiency and look at the importance of widening the diversity of grains that we eat – both for our health and for the environment. We also explore what’s behind the nutritional self-sabotage of eating disorders.
As May’s European elections approach, Horizon takes a step back to see what science can tell us about European politics. We look at the latest research into people’s opinions about the EU and how they’ve changed, particularly in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and ask what needs to be done to bring the public closer to politicians. We speak to cryptography expert Dr Steve Kremer about why most of us can’t vote online yet, and democracy specialist Prof. Wolfgang Merkel about the changing political party structures in Europe and whether this is a threat to democracy. We also find out how scientists are working to detect and flag fake news on social media in order to increase the transparency of the information people encounter online.
Each of us harbours hundreds of man-made chemicals inside our bodies because we are exposed to them in our daily lives. While individual chemicals may not be of immediate concern to public health, scientists now worry that certain mixtures of them may pose previously underestimated risks to health.
Teenagers rarely have a say in the public health policies that concern them, but we can’t halt the childhood obesity problem without working with them, says Professor Knut-Inge Klepp, executive director of the mental and physical health division at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Dedicated policies and guidelines aim to reduce everyday exposure.
Mental health and free wifi in fast food joints have been raised as pertinent issues, says public health expert.
Notre Dame restoration is a learning opportunity, says historian.