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International research collaboration helps #BeatPlasticPollution

5 June 2018
Victoria Bennett

Victoria Bennett

International Partnerships Officer
Universities UK International

​In 1974, the same year that ABBA took Eurovision by storm, the first ever World Environment Day took place. Now in its 44th year, the UN Environment's annual global call and mobilisation for action is being hosted by India and the theme for this year is #BeatPlasticPollution. 

Through capacity building programmes such as the Newton Fund, UK universities are able to engage in international research collaboration to play their part in taking action for the environment.

As you may be aware, the Newton Fund builds science and innovation partnerships to promote the economic development and social welfare of its 18 partner countries. Here at Universities UK International (UUKi), we offer a bespoke Newton matchmaking service, harnessing our knowledge of the UK higher education sector, its research groups and institutions, to find potential collaborators for those seeking UK Principal Investigators (PIs).

It's a totally platonic fairy-tale. We introduce people from across the world and, if ODA-eligible collaborative research really is their thing, the bond can last a lifetime. Disclaimer: They don't necessarily walk off into the sunset, and granted, the same glowy romantic charge doesn't absolutely cling to 'Going On Together To Develop A Funding Proposal and Budget Spreadsheet'. That I'll be the first to admit.

One such example of a match made is Plymouth Marine Laboratory, (Dr Pennie Lindeque) and Instituto del Mar del Perú, (Dr Sara Purca), jointly awarded a British Council Researcher Links grant last year. In partnership with Peruvian funding partner CONCYTEC, this particular Newton grant is funding a five-day international training workshop on microplastic debris taking place this October in Callao, Peru.

It aims to bring together early career researchers from the UK and around the world to learn and share knowledge about microplastics, providing an opportunity to present to and engage with established researchers, receive expert training and network in an international environment. Being able to converse face to face with international counterparts (and potential future research partners!) is crucial in converting from challenges to advantages, divisive geographical, cultural and linguistic barriers. Such collaboration feeds research pipelines in both Peru and the UK, while boosting both countries' international reputation for research and innovation.

Shrimp shells instead of plastic? The University of Nottingham and Nile University, Egypt continue to conduct Newton-funded research into the feasibility of making reusable bags and food packaging out of shrimp shells to help improve the Egyptian waste management structure and to minimise plastic pollution. Although a fully collaborative bilateral process, focus is always on the Newton partner country, where a UK grant, match-funded by the Egyptian partner ensuring buy-in, combines with - in this case - a large amount of local shrimp shell waste, to create a pathway to lasting impact.

World Environment Day is an opportunity for everyone to do something to help care for our lovely planet. Ahead of the curve, Chile last week became the first country in the Americas to have a total ban approved on single-use plastics. An increasing amount of attention now surrounds marine pollution, including the Commonwealth, when in April this year, its Heads of Government Meeting resulted in a pledge to eliminate avoidable single-use plastic and in the UK Prime Minister announcing a £61.4 million package of funding to boost global research in ocean plastics.

With the deadline for this year's British Council Researcher Links and Institutional Links calls fast approaching (midday, Monday 11th June), it's been fascinating to see the emerging projects and partnerships working to improve the health of our people and our planet – from ocean plastics to agritech and from cancer treatment to clean energy. It's exciting that occasions such as World Environment Day can help add further impetus to campaigns highlighting global challenges and shine a light on the often less-celebrated work being carried out collaboratively by UK universities and their international partners to tackle such challenges.

The Newton Fund has given scope for UK researchers and their Newton country partners to respond to UN Sustainable Development Goals as well as the specific environmental challenges targeted by in-country funding partners, for instance water security in Jordan or natural disaster resilience in the Philippines. At UUKi, we may initiate some of these researchers' early conversations, but they certainly chase their own happily-ever-afters.

Happy World Environment Day.

Our team

Annie Bell

Communications Manager
Universities UK International

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