Published: 01 March 2021

New Surrey Centre for International and Environmental Law (SCIEL)

Building on the research expertise in the School of Law and our shared interests with colleagues in other departments, the Surrey Centre for International and Environmental Law (SCIEL) launched in lockdown in May 2020.

Co-Directors Professor Rosalind Malcolm and Dr Noreen O’Meara are leading research projects and have created new networks with Universities around the world to improve the effect that we are having on our planet. To follow our work, see our website or news feed @SurreySCIEL.

In this news update, we are providing an overview of funded projects led by each of the co-directors, to give a flavour of research we are doing which has an environmental dimension. Students are welcome to join the Governing Plastics Network (GPN). If you are interested in being a student research assistant at SCIEL there will be opportunities to do this in the near future. Please send enquiries by email to Rosalind Malcolm ( or Noreen O’Meara (n.o’

One of SCIEL’s current research themes is the impact of plastics in the environment and the governance of plastics waste. The Governing Plastics Network (GPN) hosts projects exploring different aspects of plastics pollution. GPN was jointly created by the Universities of Surrey and Nairobi and is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). Since creating the GPN, we have expanded our reach, creating new projects with partners across Europe, East Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and Australia.

Current SCIEL projects are funded by UKRI/GCRF, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the University Global Partnership Network and the British Academy. A selection of which are…


The Plastics Pollution Governance Framework Network Project

This project's goal is to share knowledge and expertise on approaches to plastics governance in developing countries. It aims to reduce environmental pollution through reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of waste material, thereby retaining plastics in the value chain for longer. This project demonstrates the global, collaborative scope of the Global Engagement Networks, as our team of researchers work with academics, businesses and other stakeholders from across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Malawi, as well as in the UK, Denmark, Sweden and the Caribbean.


The Wicked Problem of Plastics and the Discourse Surrounding its Governance

In this project, we aim to improve how we use and dispose of plastic by looking at how we talk about it. This research examines how local and national governments and organisations frame written, visual and verbal communication about plastic and asks how this can be translated into behaviour change and activism leading to better laws and more effective governance. The project investigates these discourses to learn how the “plastics story” is told in different countries and identifies how this influences consumers, activists, regulators and other key decision-makers.


Building collective ownership of single-use plastics waste in youth communities: case studies from Kenya, Jamaica and Malawi

This project aims to assess the way in which young communities view and handle single-use plastic items. It will look at schools and Universities and other youth groups. Our partners are: the University of Nairobi, Kenya; the University of West Indies, Jamaica; and the Catholic University of Malawi.


Rethinking Plastic Pollution Post-Pandemic

How does the pandemic impact the environment, environmental law and policy, and the problem of plastics waste? This project explores the effect of Covid-19 on plastic pollution governance. With our interdisciplinary team, the University of Wollongong in Australia and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil – the Rethinking Plastics Network – we explore the evolving impacts of the pandemic with a particular focus on the UK, Australia and Brazil.


‘Global Trade in Plastics Waste: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’

Funded by the British Academy, this project explores the global trade in plastics waste, a challenging environmental, economic and social problem. Our research brings together an interdisciplinary cohort of scientists from earth and ocean sciences, legal scholars and literary specialists to explore legal, policy, artistic, and scientific dimensions of this phenomenon. This is a collaboration between the University of Surrey and University College Dublin.


‘Rivers, Rights and Nature’

This project explores the concept of granting ‘legal personhood’ in nature, something which can be greeted with incredulity or surprise. However, reaching into history shows that the concept of legal personhood was anything but extra-ordinary: societies have long-regarded rivers, and other natural phenomena or sites as having sacred and/or animist qualities. Our research is informed by perspectives from classical civilization, First Nations and global environmental justice movements. This project, funded by the British Academy, is a collaboration with University College Dublin (World Literature and Classics).


Further ongoing projects undertaken by Prof Malcolm include: the regulation of drinking water in Uganda; public health and safety in food systems (a joint project with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Surrey and contributions to The Food Futures: Innovative Solutions for a Resilient and Sustainable Local Food System, funded by HEIF Higher Education Innovation Fund). Prof Malcolm is also funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust to develop the project A New Model Law for Products: Codex Rerum.


During 2021 there will be events linked to many of our projects, including a research workshop on the Governance of Plastics in June 2021, thanks to a successful bid to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Surrey. Professor Malcolm has been asked to guest-edit a special issue of Social Sciences on the governance of plastics, submissions for which would be welcome at the workshop – submissions due 30 June 2021.

Watch out for our news and events @SurreySCIEL, and please get in touch if you are interested in collaborating!

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