Our World and Microplastics - What can we do?
A few years ago, the world began to take note of the ever-more-present composition of plastics in our oceans. We began to notice what are called microplastics turning up in the organ systems of fish and shellfish. We then eventually turned our attention to the fact that plastics, by nature, have and will continue to fragment. Pieces of plastic begin to shred over time, becoming smaller and smaller until they are able to become airborne. This past spring, scientists actually found plastic particles in living humans - inside lung tissue as well as in the blood of anonymous donors. Not to be too distressing, the scientists themselves are reluctant to label their findings as “alarming,” but they do note that we should be aware and concerned, as plastic obviously doesn’t belong in our blood. Scientists have been studying microplastics and their potential harm since 2004 and they’ve actually been able to locate these plastics all over the globe - from the floor of the Mariana Trench to Mount Everest! In fact, the tonnage of plastic waste found in the ocean is in the double digits of trillions, this number multiplying every year as more and more plastic waste enters the oceans. The last number to come from Japanese scientists estimated that there is the equivalent of roughly 30 billion half-liter water bottles floating around in the oceans in the form of microplastics right now. While scientists are still trying to determine the level of harm this number of microplastics can pose, they readily admit that there is potential concern specifically with the extensive chemical list found in plastics, as most of them are not adequately regulated, with hundreds of these chemicals not being approved for use in food packaging.
While scientists and chemical companies are remaining busy discussing whether or not a synthetic ingredient like plastic is harmful to the environment and the human body, we can all continue to do our part to limit our over-use of plastics. So, what can we do?
Eat Less Seafood or Choose Sustainably Caught Fish:
The overwhelming majority of plastics, especially microplastics, existing in the ocean have been found to be due to large-scale commercial fishing operations. In fact, 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of just fishing ropes. While we can’t stop all irresponsible fishing practices around the globe, we can do our part and put our dollars where our hearts are, and choose sustainable options.
Avoid Products With Microbeads:
Many household personal care products actually have a bounty of tiny plastic particles within them called microplastics. These items include face scrubs, toothpastes, body washes, etc. And since these items are washed away down our drains, they often find themselves within our oceans and waterways. It’s best to avoid products that contain plastics within them for both your personal health as well as the health of our oceans. You should be on the lookout to avoid items containing the ingredients polyethylene and polypropylene.
Join a Community Cleanup:
Help attack the plastic problem before it even enters our waterways by joining a local cleanup. You could participate in your own backyard by finding a park or a river cleanup near you or you could even join your family and friends in a beach cleanup while on vacation. Every little bit helps.
Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics:
Regardless of your diet, everyone can make an immediate and direct impact on the number of plastics being breathed in and out around the world by limiting their use of single-use plastics. This includes plastic grocery bags, water bottles, utensils, carry-out items, iced coffee cups, etc. The best way to put this into practice is to both refuse any single-use plastics you don’t need (such as straws, plastic bags, and extra utensils) as well as make sure to bring your own reusable options with you (reusable grocery bags, coffee cups, and water bottles) wherever you go.
While this issue is on a global scale, we can all do our part and be responsible for our own output. We can’t always be perfect, but we can try.
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