It was only the first time the event had been held, but there was no doubt at all that Monaco’s World Plastics Summit was a blockbuster success in bringing together top minds from across the globe to address one of the world’s most pressing problems.

The Summit was held over three days at the Novotel Monte-Carlo and because the problem of plastic waste in the world’s oceans is such a major long-term problem that keeps getting very much worse rather than better, there was a real sense of urgency as experts presented their work and the moderators pulled it all together.

John McGeehan, Professor at the University of Portsmouth, whose speciality is in the discovery and engineering of enzymes, including those for the depolymerisation of lignocellulose plant biomass, and more recently, towards bio-based recycling and upcycling solutions for man-made plastic polymers, cut through the jargon to tell the conference on the final day that the World Plastic Summit was a very ambitious and challenging project, especially after lockdown.

“We need to foster global collaboration to accelerate plastics recycling and redesign,” he said. His colleague, Gregg Beckham of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an expert on Biofuels, Green Chemistry and Plastics Upcycling, added that the scientific community needs to be better connected globally. “We have a very narrow window of opportunity, but we can do it,” he said.

It was clear from the entire conference that the coming together of world experts in Monaco has already facilitated much faster communication and exchange of research findings on a global basis, saving valuable time in the race to find solutions.

Professor Tony Ryan made a very lively presentation in which he rubbished schemes such as carbon capture – not scalable – and espoused the practice of “curated burial” for solid plastic waste. He pointed out that it sounds much better than “landfill.’ He suggested that one-metre cubes of plastic waste could be put to good use in construction with much of it buried in disused coalmines.

A Monaco-based scientist remarked on the fringe of the conference that when he first saw the title of the Summit he had been rather doubtful about its apparent overarching ambition, but having taken part over the three days he was convinced that the event had earned its title.

Fittingly, HSH Prince Albert attended the Saturday morning session and warmly thanked the organisers and participants. In return, Prince Albert was left in no doubt that his championing of the cause of the world’s oceans serves as further inspiration to scientists and campaigners ‘on the cutting edge.’

The event was the brainchild of Oxana Girko in partnership with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

PHOTO Gregg Beckham, left, and John McGeehan summarise the conference’s main themes. Ian Brodie