Current Environmental news that matters
November’s issue of Environmental Progress News looks at ocean plastics and why it is such a big deal, why you should care, what is being done, and what still needs to be done.
Long Term Problem
In 1907 when Bakelite first started the plastics revolution, they were not kidding when chemist Leo Baekeland said his plastic substance was created using a “method of making insoluble products of phenol and formaldehyde,” He was also right in predicting that there would be 1,001 uses for plastics.
Okay, the keyword here is insoluble. Whether it was short-sightedness, or simply not caring, someone missed the point of eventual disposal of an item that is insoluble. When you create something that is never going to return to nature for recycling it is going to accumulate. With the explosion of the single-use plastics that accumulation is destroying our environment.
One Billion Elephants
Today around 8 million metric tons of garbage enters the earth’s waters each year. That is the equivalent of 1 billion elephants marching into the oceans every year. Next year we can expect 2 billion elephants at the current rate of trash accumulation and disposal into our waterways.
It is estimated around 70% of the world’s marine litter is made of plastic. According to a study by non-profit group Ocean Conservancy plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose in the ocean.
Rivers, Waterways, and Coastlines
Plastic pollution is not limited to the oceans, in fact 4 million metric tons of garbage passes along rivers before entering the ocean. Garbage is washing up on ocean shores. Recently here in Thailand a major beach was shut down due to the amount of garbage that was accumulating, garbage washing ashore and left behind by tourists visiting the beaches. This is not an isolated incident, it is happening all around the globe, In Mumbai following a high tide the shores of Juhu were covered with a ton of debris.
The ocean is not a still body of water, it is a constant ebb and flow of currents. Evidence of the widespread impact of our plastic garbage problem can be seen over the past decade. East Faulkland and St. Helena Islands, some of the remotest beaches in the world, has seen a 10 fold increase of plastic garbage littering the shores.
The problem is not going away, it is still on a rise. Every year, an estimated 8 million to 12 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons already in our marine environments, according to the Ocean Conservancy.Sep 7, 2018
Death By Plastics
Our discarded plastic waste seriously damages marine habitats and life in the sea.
Ingestion of plastics are killing off vast amounts of sea life, from sea turtles to whales.
Over 100 million marine mammals die every year from plastic pollution.
Marine pollution places extra stress on organisms that are already threatened or endangered by climate change impacts, such as the imminent extinction of coral reefs.
Impact on Food
While the sea life may be suffering from plastics, it also has a great impact on food supply. Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein. Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 per cent of global GDP. And our oceans are dying from our addiction to plastics.
Microplastics in our Food Chain
Today, our food supply is tainted by microplastics that are being ingested by fish. New reports are showing evidence of microplastics being found in human blood.
The gradual degradation of larger pieces of plastic waste create microplastics.
Microplastics also enter our water supply, our rivers and oceans in a number of substances used by the oil industry, as well as some cosmetic products including soaps and toothpastes. Microfibres that break off of fleece garments, office and house wall to wall carpets add to the microplastics. Everytime you wash your polyester bed sheets those microfibers find their way into our rivers, our oceans.
New research shows more than 100 tons of microplastics are dumped into the ocean every year just in the North Seas alone.
Microplastics do not breakdown, instead it turns into a sediment which enters the food chain and damages marine life. Microplastics build up in marine life with effects on health, growth, behaviour and reproduction in some species.
Once microplastics enter the food chain they usher toxins into the fatty tissues of fish and other animals, which then go up the food chain and may be eaten by humans. A recent study by Ghent University in Belgium found that people who regularly eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic each year.
Not only is ocean sealife being poisoned by the microplastics, new studies show 50 percent of freshwater insects are consuming microplastics. End result? Microplastics are being passed up the food chain to fish, birds, and the animals that feed on them, again possibly ending up on your dinner plate.
Cleaning up the ocean is a start, and there are several ocean cleanup projects working towards that goal.
In a previous post April 1, 2018 we covered The Great Garbage Patch highlighting The Ocean Cleanup Project headed by Boyan Slat. The latest news is that after exhaustive testing and adjustments, the ship “is en route to the patch. It will take between two and three weeks to arrive to the center. The crew is prepared to continue testing System 001 for its plastic capturing efficiency, effect on marine life, and various other features that can only be observed from the patch. The coming months will give System 001 plenty of opportunities to prove itself and we are hopeful that it will continue to pass the tests.”
This is exciting news and we will continue to follow and update.
We applaud their efforts, but until we stop dumping our trash in the oceans and rivers we really have not found the solution.
There is no easy solution to clean up decades of plastic debris, we can remove it from the ocean, but that is not really a solution, it is just moving the problem from the seas to the land. We need to get to the source of the problem, and eliminate the “insoluble” plastics that we have become so addicted to, and replace them with biodegradable materials.
More money and resources needs to be devoted to finding solutions. The past decade has seen an increase in consumer activism, resulting in more regulatory bans and restrictions regarding plastics consumption and the handling of plastics waste.
Indonesia has recently developed a new material to replace plastic bags. The new technology transforms cassava/tapioca starch and vegetable oil derivatives into all kinds of single use “I Am Not Plastic” bags. The bags have antistatic and electric dissipative features. Using a hot flat iron test the material softens and dissolves at both room temperature and boiling water; and burns like paper leaving no trace of “chemical drops”.
As consumers, we have the power to make the change. Support alternative packaging, refuse plastic straws, use recyclable bags, eliminate as much single use plastic from your daily life. And continue to recycle and repurpose “insoluble plastics”.
This is why we care. Let’s stop littering our world and find better solutions at what we create in the future, with an eye on its long term impact on our environment.
“Most people can’t see the connection between their own lives and the oceans” ~ Paul Watson
What does it matter if our oceans have become the dumping ground for all of our waste and plastic pollution?
The oceans cover 70% of the earth’s surface, what harm is there in using some of that space as a dumping ground?
The garbage has to go somewhere, why not into the vast oceans where we can not even see it from most shores?
Why do some people act like it is such a big deal? Who really cares?
Our oceans are already suffering from the damages of climate change. Rising water temperatures are killing off our coral reefs at an alarming rate. Estimates are that coral reefs will be extinct by 2050, impacting 25% of ocean life currently sustained by coral reefs. The loss of another Ecosystem.
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Noteworthy Upcoming Events
Our ocean food supply is not only impacted by plastics. Mercury also plays a role in poisoning our food supply. People, we need to clean up our environment!
Hazards of Mercury Contamination on Health & Environment
by Rao M Sajjad Sharif, Shahid Majeed and Fahad Munir
Mercury naturally exists in the environment. It is part of the composition Crust, may exist in the air, water, Soil, aquatic sediments, and living plants animal. It exists in several chemical forms, including Elemental mercury (pure mercury) and inorganic mercury and organic mercury compounds.
Element Mercury is sometimes called metallic mercury. It is toxic and has a serious impact Environment and humans, especially developing fetuses and baby.
The pollution of mercury to the environment is natural, artificial and historical sources. 1.5 ratios anthropogenic mercury levels almost doubled in the past 100 years, about 70% has clearly exceeded Natural release of mercury.
UNEP classification Human sources are divided into the following three categories; (1) mobilizing mercury impurities from it Coal-fired power plant, fossil burning or cement produce. (2) Intentional release of mercury such as Mercury mining, artisanal gold and handicrafts Silver Ore. (3) Deliberate release combination and mobilizing mercury impurities such as waste incineration, mining landfills.
Health Hazards in humans and the environment:
High levels of mercury exposure can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system of people of all ages. Studies have shown that most people’s fish consumption does not cause health problems. However, it has been shown that high levels of methylmercury in the blood of unborn babies and young children can damage the developing nervous system, making it impossible for children to think and learn.
Women of childbearing age around the world have been found to contain high levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can seriously harm unborn children. Women on the Pacific islands are the most polluted. This is because they rely on eating fish, which concentrates on mercury pollution in the oceans around the world, most of which comes from burning coal.
The most extreme level comes from places in Indonesia where mercury is used in large quantities for small-scale gold mining and fish are often eaten. This gold mining has caused serious mercury pollution and is also the source of damage to women in Kenya, Paraguay, and Myanmar.
Millions of women and children are condemned in communities that use gold to mine gold. Future mercury can harm the health of adults and damage the brains of their offspring. Mercury contamination in the Pacific islands is serious because we eat fish. But I don’t want to be told not to eat fish.
Coal-fired power generation is one of the main sources of mercury pollution in the ocean and is a true criminal. It is time to phase out. “There is widespread mercury pollution in marine and freshwater systems around the world”.
Health care provider, policy maker, Teachers, community leaders,
Parents and children have a role in
Preventing children’s role-playing their environment
Birds and mammals that eat fish are more exposed to mercury than other animals in the aquatic ecosystem. Similarly, predators that eat fish animals may be highly exposed. At high levels of exposure, the harmful effects of methylmercury on these animals include death, reduced reproduction, slowing growth and development, and behavioral abnormalities.
The presence of methylmercury (inorganic mercury that is altered by bacteria in the natural environment) affects the food chain of the entire ecosystem. Plants absorb toxins and are then fed by insects and fish that eat plants, while insects and fish are eaten by carnivorous and fish-eating animals, including songbirds, waterfowl, and humans.