Small Plastic Particles or Microplastics Pass Toxic Chemicals to Marine Life

I’ve blogged before about the impacts of plastic on our oceans.  My pet peeve – microplastic beads in beauty products designed to be washed down the drain and into our oceans since they are too small to be removed by sewage treatment plants.  Plastic that makes its way into our oceans breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, and gets taken up by marine life that mistake the plastic pieces for food.  If you didn’t already know, there are huge garbage patches of plastic floating in our oceans – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is roughly twice the size of the continental United States.
People think that the plastics will just magically disappear.  But, “except for a small amount [of plastic] that’s been incinerated, every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains.  It’s somewhere in the environment,” says Tony Andrady.
Now it seems that microplastics – plastic fragments smaller than 5 millimeters – are posing a significant toxic threat to our oceans.  Those microplastics release their toxic additives – such as flame retardants (added to plastic parts of consumer electronics), phthalates (plasticizers found in vinyl), and antimicrobials – into marine life.  In addition, plastics tend to soak up additional toxic chemicals.  Plastics soak up persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that don’t mingle in water.  In other words, those chemicals that don’t dissolve in water attach themselves to the microplastics.  Microplastics have been shown to have PCB concentrations more than 1 million times higher than PCB concentrations in the surrounding water.  These chemicals also get passed to animals when the plastic is ingested.
Two recent studies (one involving mussels and the other involving seabirds) have shown that marine life ingesting microplastics have significant higher concentrations of plastic-related toxic chemicals in their bodies. 
Ultimately, if toxic chemicals are making their way from microplastics into marine life, they will make their way into our bodies.  We just contaminate our food chain. 
So, let’s do what we can to eliminate disposable plastic.  I’ve talked about options before, but, well, I defer to the queen of eliminating plastic, Beth at Fake Plastic Fish.  She is truly the goddess of eliminating plastic.  I bow down to her expertise.
Nevertheless, with the approaching holiday season, some tips:

  • Use glass or stainless steel instead of disposable plastic bags to store leftovers.  Or, try aluminum foil (recycled) to package up those Thanksgiving Day doggie bags.  Aluminum can be readily recycled.  Perhaps you can learn to fold like a turkey?
  • Use paper tape to close & ship packages.
  • Look for consumer goods that are not packaged in unnecessary plastic.
  • Use reusable bags for all shopping, not just grocery store.
  • Use reusable cloth produce bags.

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