Microplastics debate ‘shows how the public can drive scientific conversations’

SAPEA hosted a lively discussion on microplastics pollution between scientists, policymakers and environmental campaigners in Switzerland.

The starting-point for the debate was the evidence-based conclusions of the SAPEA report into microplastics published in January this year, which informs the scientific opinion of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. Discussions ranged from the concrete evidence for the presence of microplastics in different environments, to how policymakers should respond when such evidence is limited and how science advice can help to frame broader public conversations.

The all-female line-up included Dr Sabine Pahl of the SAPEA microplastics working group, as well as Professor Nicole Grobert, one of the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisors; Dilyana Mihayalova of campaign organisation Fauna & Flora International; and staff attorney Giulia Carlini from the Centre for International Environmental Law.

The SAPEA debate was chaired by BBC presenter and science journalist Vivienne Parry, who commented:

“The entire microplastics conversation is fascinating because while it’s a conversation about science, it’s being propelled by the public – they are driving the agenda. So it is instructional. We can study what’s happening here to understand how science can engage better with the public in all kinds of areas.”

The debate took place on 9 May in Bern, Switzerland, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of ALLEA, one of SAPEA’s five academy networks. Other topics covered at the event – which focused on the role of science in society – included how to recapture the spirit of the moon landings for future scientific projects, and how to make use of technology entrepreneurship in music.

Watch the debate and view photos on the ALLEA website.

Event details


Nicole Grobert

Dilyana Mihayalova

Giulia Carlini