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Mapping the global impact of litter


   School of Civil Engineering and Surveying


About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3-year full-time or 6-year part time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Technology, School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, and will be supervised by Dr Keiron Roberts, Professor Steve Fletcher and Professor David Bacon.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Determining the extent and type of litter
  • Calculating the impact of litter across different countries
  • Determining infrastructure and policy impacts on litter distribution

Project description

  Litter is a continuous problem within our communities, brought recently into the mainstream news through COVID mask litter. Data on litter distribution is piecemeal, stored in multiple locations often with a non-standardised system. This data would be incredibly valuable homogenised to determine the impact that infrastructure, policies and geographies have on littering behaviour and its impacts on society and the environment.

This PhD will utilise open-source data from multiple applications (Marine Debris tracker, Litterati, etc.) as well as NGO and government annual surveys (among others) to produce a continually updating database of litter composition and distribution. Using sources such as open street map you will determine the impact infrastructure and geography have on litter distribution on a temporal and spatial scale. 

This work would build upon the successful research the University of Portsmouth has and is undertaking on litter. Key examples are the highly impactful Nature paper on “Increased personal protection equipment as a result of COVID-19 measures ” and the world’s first city wide plastic litter survey “MAPP”. The project will work closely with the Global Plastics Policy Hub and their work with the UN and G20, and the Revolution Plastics initiative.

Combining the litter analysis and an analysis of national waste management infrastructure/ practices and government policies will be used to determine their effectiveness and potential transferability across nations. This will be used by all the partners and support research into plastic use and its impacts on the environment. 

You will be supported by Dr Keiron Roberts, an expert in sustainability, waste management and litter; Prof. Steve Fletcher Sustainability theme lead, Revolution plastics director and UN IRP Ocean Lead is an expert in national and global policies; & Prof David Bacon is Impact Lead for UoP Cosmology and is an expert in novel data science techniques.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

A strong analytical background and use of data mining is essential. Use of GIS is required.

An understanding of environmental sciences and policy and a background in utilising modelling software (e.g. R, Python, Matlab) are desirable. You should have an interest in environmental impacts of litter.

How to Apply

We encourage you to contact Dr Keiron Roberts () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Civil Engineering PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

When applying please quote project code: SCES5551023.


Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK students only).

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