I’ve been a CSI for 23 years and during that time I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of single-use plastic generated at crime scenes. Even though we attend fewer jobs these days compared to a decade ago, the quantity of plastic waste generated appears to increase. In a two month period I attended 62 scenes and collected 255 exhibits, with each one generating an average of 55g of plastic waste. That’s 14kg of unrecyclable rubbish, which goes straight into the bin. One job alone generated two kilograms of waste, lots of it unused. If we can’t recycle or reuse those products, we need look at reducing it at source.

From an environmental view, the current situation is both irresponsible and preventable.

We all understand the importance of plastic products, whether it’s to reduce the risk of DNA contamination or simply bagging and tagging evidence. There is a need for a clinical way of working – but there are alternatives and there are ways of cutting down waste. Improvements could be made without impacting the quality and integrity of investigations. We could look at the design of packaging, expiry dates, product design and our working practices and behaviours. To give just one example, our swabs are too long. They were originally manufactured for medical use and could be redesigned for forensic work. It’s only a small change, but it would reduce the quantity of plastic we use.  

To get a better understanding I’m going to spend the next three years studying the problem at the University of Portsmouth. Before we start making significant changes, we need a good evidence base.

How you can help:

If you work in forensics or attend crime scenes, I’d like to know what you think.

Improving the sustainability of forensic consumables (onlinesurveys.ac.uk)

My aim is to ascertain whether there is a genuine concern among my peers who utilise forensic packaging regarding single use plastic waste. Ultimately, I hope to work in tandem with national police forces and consumables companies to find ways to improve sustainability without affecting the integrity of the packaging, while ensuring ease of use for practitioners and cost effectiveness for the Police Services.

If you’d like to know more about the study, please get in touch with me: rebecca.henderson@port.ac.uk


Portsmouth university study looks into police crime scene plastic use - BBC News

Global Plastics Policy Centre | University of Portsmouth