Sheila Hemami and Pete Miraglia, both part of Draper's Global Challenges Initiative, joined Boston Public Radio on Tuesday to speak about Draper's ocean conservation efforts.

Plastic that escapes waste management, like a rogue plastic bag on the street, will turn into microplastic and get washed into the watershed when it rains, Hemami explained."Microplastics are pieces of plastic that you can’t see. So the plastic degrades as it sits in the environment, and at some point we don’t see it anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there," she said.

Draper is working to design a way to measure the amount of microplastic that ends up in the water, Hemami said. Measuring levels of microplastic will allow us to determine if our mitigation strategies are working, like some cities' plastic bag bans.

"Do bag bans work? Are they reducing the amount of microplastic in the water?" Hemami asked. "We don't know. But Draper's project will enable real-time understanding of how much microplastic there is, so we get a handle on what's working and redirect efforts as necessary."

Measuring levels of microplastic is a crucial first step in overall pollution cleanup efforts, Miraglia said.

"If you can measure it, you can begin to understand the problem, the vastness of it, and what its sources are most importantly," he said. "How do you apply your resources best to mitigate it? It starts with measurement."

Hemami is director of strategic technical opportunities at Draper. Miraglia is a program manager for Draper's Global Challenges Initiative.