Experts estimate that at least 70 percent of all plastic is not recovered or recycled, and that more than eight million tons of it end up in our oceans each year. With over 150 million tons of plastic in the oceans right now, unless drastic steps are taken there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
The tiniest of all these plastic fibers – those that are smaller than 5 millimeters in size – are called microplastics, and they pose the greatest threat of all to marine and human life because they are so small that they are easily ingested by marine animals. Many of the fish that eat these plastics are then eaten by humans higher up the food chain, and experts are gravely concerned about what the long-term effects of this might be.
Until recently, there wasn’t any conclusive evidence that eating plastic-contaminated seafood would leave plastic residues in the guts of the humans consuming them. Then, at the United European Gastroenterology congress held recently in Vienna, researchers announced the results of a study in which microplastics were detected in stool samples supplied by volunteers from around the globe. In fact, this type of plastic was detected in every single stool sample submitted. (Related: Microplastic pollution is the REAL threat to our oceans, warn scientists.)
“Plastics are pervasive in everyday life”
As reported by Wired, Philipp Schwable, the study’s lead researcher and a gastroenterologist at the Medical University of Vienna, noted, “Plastics are pervasive in everyday life and humans are exposed to plastics in numerous ways.” Despite the pervasiveness of plastic in our society, however, the research team was shocked by just how much all this plastic is affecting our food chain.
Stool samples were collected from participants in eight different countries: The United Kingdom, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Finland, Italy and Austria. The samples were collected in glass jars, wrapped in biohazard bags and then shipped with special labeling to be analyzed by the Austrian Environmental Agency.
Understandably, due to the unpleasant nature of the test material, researchers have been less than eager to conduct this type of research. Nonetheless, the study yielded incredibly valuable information. (Related: The plastic pollution problem is wide and deep.)
Every participant’s poop tested positive for plastics, from polyethylene (commonly found in plastic bags) to polypropylene (bottle caps) to polyvinyl chloride (the “PVC” in PVC pipe). In fact, of the ten types of plastic that the researchers screened for, nine were detected. On average, the researchers turned up 20 particles of microplastic per quarter pound of poop.
How can this be normal?
It is almost impossible to imagine that when Leo Baekeland invented the first totally synthetic plastic back in 1907 that he ever foresaw that his amazing invention would prove so detrimental to the environment and the human race. Plastic is now pervasive in our society and most of us never stop to think what happens to our plastic keyboards, computer monitors, containers, cartons and the myriad other plastic items we use on a daily basis. Nonetheless, all this plastic has to go somewhere, and sadly, much of it ends up in our waterways.
It might seem like there is now so much plastic all around us that there is really nothing we can do about it, but that simply isn’t true. Back in 2014, EcoWatch listed several things each of us can do to make a difference, including:
- Reuse shopping bags and water bottles whenever possible;
- Don’t use straws or other single-use plastic items;
- Use reusable containers rather than disposable packaging like sandwich bags and juice cartons;
- Bring your own mug to your favorite coffee shop;
- Choose digital downloads rather than CDs and DVDs which are often packaged in plastic;
- Try to find alternatives to the plastic items you use now;
- Volunteer for beach clean-ups which can help prevent plastic from ending up in the ocean;
- Talk to your family and friends about changing their habits too.
All is not lost; if each one of us tries our best we can turn the tide against the plastic pollution of our oceans … and ultimately, of ourselves. Learn more at Pollution.news.