Nearly nine million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean every year. This debris affects fish and wildlife through choking or entanglement. It also poses an additional threat through the release of toxic chemicals from plastic material as it breaks down, and through the almost invisible danger known as ‘microplastics’.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, created either by the ocean grinding down larger pieces of plastic waste or introduced directly into the ocean as ‘microbeads’, such as those used in beauty products. Microplastic particles can be consumed by fish, seabirds and filter feeding marine animals such as shellfish, tubeworms and zooplankton as they filter the ocean water for their food or they may be eaten by smaller organisms that mistake these tiny particles for their natural food, which can have toxic effects or starve them to death.
Microplastics also put our supplies of healthy seafood at risk through contamination. Studies have demonstrated the ability of plastic to take up toxic substances and metals, which are present in trace quantities in almost all water bodies. Plastics, along with the toxic substances and metals they soak up, can enter the bodies of marine animals (e.g. zooplankton) upon consumption. It is thought that these contaminants can increase in concentration as they climb the food chain (referred to as ‘biomagnification’) - from tiny plankton to large predatory fish like tuna, salmon, and swordfish - and could ultimately reach humans at more toxic levels through consumption of seafood.
What Can We Do?
Tip 1: Use a biodegradable paper straw or drink straight from the glass rather than using plastic drinking straw.
Tip 2: Fight hidden plastic by refusing to use cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads. Beware of products containing polyethylene and polypropylene - if neither of these are listed in the ingredients, you're microbead-free!
Tip 3: Carry your own reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water.
Tip 4: Choose metal cutlery over plastic.
Tip 5: Don’t put any products containing plastic (such as Q-tips, sanitary products or sticking plasters) down the drain or toilet.
Tip 6: Choose biodegradable or reusable plates over plastic plates.
Tip 7: Use reusable shopping bags (preferably cloth) over disposable plastic bags.
Tip 8: Compost your organic waste to use fewer rubbish bags.
Tip 9: Reuse, recycle and opt for no packaging when possible (e.g. through packaging-free shops).
Do you have any tips? Let us know on Twitter using #OurOceanOurHealth.
Useful Resources: Microplastics
- Check out the “Beat the Microbead” campaign for tips on how you can avoid microbeads: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/.
- Read this simple infographic about how microbeads can end up in our food (developed by 5Gyres).
- Did you know that a single plastic microbead can be one million times more toxic than the water around it? Learn more about the plastic pollution problem at http://www.5gyres.org/the-plastic-problem/.
- View these videos to find out how plastic microbeads are causing big problems:https://youtu.be/Bic7QEVRNe4 andhttp://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4424996.htm
- Want to ditch microbeads but can’t live without exfoliation products? Consider products that have natural exfoliators (e.g. crushed grains of rice). Check out the Fauna & Flora International Good Scrub Guide for some alternative options: http://www.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Good-Scrub-Guide-February-2016-new.pdf
Useful Resources: Marine Litter:
- Teaching / Outreach and Education Activities: Want to teach your students, friends or relatives about marine litter? Find inspiration for exciting events, downloadable information and materials on the Sea Change Online Directory for Ocean Literacy Resources < http://seachangeproject.eu/seachange-media-4/sea-change-database>. Type ‘plastics’ or ‘plastic’ in the Description field.
- Take a look at the MARLISCO Guide for Reducing Marine Litter: http://www.marlisco.eu/best-practice-guide.en.html.
- The European Commission (EC) has developed a mobile app called Marine LitterWatch which uses citizen science to strengthen Europe’s knowledge base on marine litter to support European policy making. For more information see: http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/coast_sea/marine-litterwatch.
- Clean Coasts has great marine pollution initiatives including the “Think Before You Flush” campaign and the “2 Minute Beach Clean”. Find more details on their website: http://cleancoasts.org/.
- Watch the BBC video that made the #2minutebeachcleango global: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28373761.
- Healthy Seas brings together different stakeholders with a common goal to clean the oceans and seas of marine litter. Get more information at: http://healthyseas.org/.
- To explore more inspiring marine pollution initiatives, go to Ocean Initiatives: http://www.initiativesoceanes.org/en/.
- Read Lauren Singer’s Zero Waste blog for tips on how to live sustainably: http://www.trashisfortossers.com/
- Take 3 is an initiative asking citizens to take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or... anywhere: http://www.take3.org.au/.