A recent study found that Europeans consumed an average of 11,000 pieces of microplastic in the diet, mostly through seafood – but how?
Plastics do not biodegrade. They break down into smaller microplastics that are ingested by all living organisms in the ocean – that is if they aren’t swallowed whole by sea birds, turtles, whales and other large sea creatures. However, these microplastics don’t just affect the oceans. Food webs ensure that within any environment there is constant predation, this means that through a process called biomagnification, the amount of microplastics found in organisms increases the farther you travel up the food chain – eventually reaching us.
For this microplastic to reach us it has obviously had to go through the food chain to reach us, if this surprises you, you may have not been paying attention to recent happenings within the environmental world.
In Spain a sperm whale beached itself and died after ingesting 64 pounds of plastic. Scientists believe that there will be more plastic in the oceans than living organisms by 2050, whilst a study revealed that plastic features in the diet of over 90% of all seabirds.
In the case of seabird populations, many have seen a decrease as a result of plastic ingestion as they struggle to differentiate their usual food from floating plastic. It has been revealed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was actually larger than anticipated – a surface area of 1.6 million km2 weighing upwards of 87,000 tons. Whether you realize it or not, all these topics are related to one another. The fact that so many species – especially higher level organisms near the top of the food chain – are suffering as a result of plastic pollution is major red flag as to our own future health.
Plastic production has seen “an exponential increase” since the 1950s says Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer and associate professor at Utrecht University, “On current trends, in the next five years we’ll be producing more plastic than all the twentieth century,” he said. “There’s an enormous amount of plastic coming our way.”
With plastic having seemingly infiltrated every nook and cranny within our oceans – a 2017 expedition found plastic deep within the deepest marine trench, the Marianas (10,840m) – the need to address plastic pollution on a large scale has never seemed more pressing. Worldwide campaigns are currently being launched in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic pollutions currently entering our waterways, a number that has been quoted as high as thirteen million tonnes a year (!).
Conservation starts at home. Being more aware of your actions and what consequences they may have is the first step in saving the environment. The World Earth Day’s theme was freeing the oceans of plastics, and we urge you to reconsider the role plastic plays in your everyday life. There are many more environmentally friendly options available to reduce your reliance on single-use appliances that generate far more waste and harm than they do convenience. Think globally and act locally. Make the smart choice when it comes to plastics.