Plastic is predominantly one of the leading sources of pollution especially in our marine ecosystems. It is found everywhere, from our food packets to fabric residue; These substances give a major setback to our environment especially in our global problem with regards to pollution.
Pollution is seen worldwide and tremendous effects of these are long term. Without doing something to protect the environment, who knows where we will end up in a world that continues to suffer greatly by our own hands.
A world of Plastic
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 32 million tons of plastic waste are produced in a year alone and only around nine percent is recovered for recycling. This means the majority of plastics in the country end up in landfills but much of it never makes it that far; plastic also has a tendency to wind up in local waterways and our oceans.
There are an estimated 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean and according to a recent study authored by researchers at Plymouth University, a staggering 700 different marine species are threatened by it. More than this, researchers believe that plastic plays a role in rising rates of species extinction.
Research found that 693 species had been documented as having encountered plastic debris, with nearly 400 are involved with entanglement and ingestion of these materials. Between entanglement, ingestion and ecosystem damage, the threat of plastic pollution impacts marine species both large and small.
“We found that all known species of sea turtle, and more than half of all species of marine mammal and seabird had been affected by marine debris – and that number has risen since the last major study,” explains Sarah Gall, one of the researchers.
Around 52 percent of the world’s wildlife may disappear in the past 40 years, and if we continue to dump plastic into the world’s oceans, this number is set to increase dramatically.
In a study published on Elsevier, the presence of plastic affects the food supply majority in seafoods where human consumption of these sources cause concerns with its potential effects in human health. It elaborated on microplastic debris detected in commercial seafood items even in drinking water. The potential consequences of the presence of microplastics in the marine environment for human food security, food safety and health is compromised.
Further researches on the toxicity of these particles is needed including the health risks of ingesting seafoods with microfibers.
A threat to Marine environment
Recently, efforts to help reduce plastic wastes have been widespread in order to minimize long term effects of pollution especially to our marine environment.
Microplastics have been defined as small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in size. The microplastics present in the marine environment result from the fragmentation of larger plastic debris or may be introduced into the water and sediments already as micro- or nano-sized particles. Examples of microplastics are fragments of fishing gear, packages and drink bottles, synthetic textiles, car tyres, paints, cosmetics and personal care products (e.g. facial cleaners, bath gels, toothpaste), and electronic equipment among others.
While these things pose a major damage to our aquatic resources, another threat to marine life that is currently increasing in numbers are the nanoparticles and microfibers.
All fabrics shed when they are washed. Plastic microfibers that come from synthetic fabrics, like nylon and polyester, do not biodegrade as natural fibers would. Garments such as polyester fleece jackets, synthetic yoga pants, and other crude oil-based performance wear are lead contributors to this issue.
Plastic microfibers, the small fibers that come off our synthetic clothing in the wash, are a huge problem. These fibers are less than a millimeter long, too small to be seen by the naked eye, and are entering our oceans and rivers through sewage outflows. The Hudson River alone dumps 300 million fibers into the Atlantic ocean each day.
Once there, they are being consumed by marine life, entering our food chain, and making a reappearance at our dinner tables.
As if this weren’t alarming enough, research published by Orb Media found that the United States has the highest contamination rate of microfibers in drinking water, with 94% of tested samples affected.
In our food supply, the size of microfibers allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife, and a recent study has found fish sold for human consumption from Indonesia and California were contaminated with plastic fibers.
In another study from Elsevier, Microfibers were recorded in a large proportion of sediment samples (91%), macroinvertebrates (60%) and shorebird feces (49%). Similar microfiber concentrations in faeces of shorebirds with different foraging behaviour and similar composition of fibres collected from invertebrate and faeces suggest shorebirds mainly ingest microfibers through their prey, confirming microfiber transfer along intertidal food webs.
Particles were predominantly microfibers (91%) and 0.1–1.5 mm in length (77%), a smaller size than those captured in the majority of surface studies. Using further analysis, 57% were classified as synthetic, 12% as semi-synthetic, and 31% as non-synthetic.
Microplastics are widespread in aquatic environments and are ingested by a wide range of organisms. They can also be transferred along food webs. Estuaries and other tidal wetlands may be particularly prone to this type of pollution due to their particular hydrological characteristics and sewage input, but few studies have compared wetlands with different anthropogenic pressure. Furthermore, there is no information on microplastic transfer to secondary intertidal consumers such as shorebirds.
What we must do
Here are some things which are helpful to minimize the problem with Plastic pollution.
Reusable grocery bags
When plastic bags make their way into the oceans, marine animals can easily ingest them. To help keep plastic bags out of the oceans and away from marine animals, carry a reusable bag wherever you go – not just the grocery store!
Synthetic to natural fibers
As stated earlier, microfibers which consists of synthetic materials is toxic to the environment and carries lots of effects to marine animals. Choose garments made from natural and authentic fibers instead which does not cause harm to fishes unlike plastic products
A new profound way of eliminating our plastic problem is through creating Ecobricks. These are made from compressing unrecyclable plastic and other non-biological waste stuffed into bottles. It not just help lessen plastic wastes but it is also used to make furniture, buildings and houses producing zero-cost solid waste solution for individuals, households, schools, and communities.
Lay-off Plastic materials in all kinds
We have to think about how we dispose items everyday. Switch to reusable products which can still be worth keeping and does not involve plastic substances which may potentially end up in the ocean.
Waste free lifestyle
The most important thing to help in adding our plastic pollution problem is changing our lifestyle and learning to live in a Waste free world. Find ways to reduce waste and avoid plastic as much as possible. This will not just help you save money from consuming different products, it also helps in keeping plastic out of our oceans and marine ecosystems.
All it takes is a small step towards producing results in time through efforts and contribution in any way in order to help conserve our world and the environment.
Want to know more about microplastic and nanoparticles? Here are the links for the following research journals.