When Blue Planet 2 hit our screens in October 2017 the majority of viewers were aghast at the levels of plastic pollution in our seas. The images of albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic which they had been dutifully collecting for the previous three weeks made many of us seriously reconsider our use of single use plastics.
However, the problem of plastics in our seas is not a new phenomenon. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered over 30 years ago in 1985. At the time little was done about the discovery and, as a result of this ignorance, there are now a total of five offshore plastic accumulation zones, with The Great Pacific Garbage Patch being the largest. Current estimates place the area of plastic in the Pacific as being three times the size of France and growing!
Scientists and experts estimate that up to 2.41million tonnes of plastic enter the seas each year from rivers and when you add in ‘ghost nets’ (lost fishing nets and lines) and plastic jettisoned or lost from ships, the problem is monumentally beyond anything that humanity can comprehend. The estimated 1.8trillion pieces of plastic in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone equates to roughly 250 pieces for every human!
How does single use plastics impact us?
Sir David Attenborough says that it isn’t too late to do something. We can still make a difference. With salvaging operations picking up plastics that are intact and nearly 30 years old, hard hats from the 1980s and Gameboy casings from the 1990s, The Ocean Clean Up are currently testing a clean-up system for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Tests have gone well and they hope to launch and begin cleaning within the coming few months. That will hopefully deal with the larger detritus in the area, but there is still a major issue concerning microplastics and their wider impact on the food chain which we need to address.
In a study published this year, a river near Manchester recorded the highest levels of microplastics ever. These tiny pieces of plastic, measuring less that 5mm across, find their way into our water supply through a variety of different ways. One of these is from obvious erosion of existing, larger plastic items, however the use of microbeads in cosmetics, banned in the UK in January, and glitter means that we are still inadvertently flushing plastic down the plughole and into the seas. Scientists claim that 99% of the plastic in our oceans isn’t on the surface, but instead is floating deeper down in the form if microplastics.
This has a significant effect on the food chain. The scenes from the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 showing animals poisoned by plastics were heart-breaking, but there is an even more pervasive danger lurking. By continually using microplastics, we are poisoning ourselves! A recent World Health Organisation study discovered microplastics in bottled drinking water. On average there were 325 particles in every litre sold, some of which were so small that they could transfer through our gut and into our blood stream. Even for the least ecologically friendly among us, this new information is scary.
What can you do to help to reduce plastics?
- One of the most obvious things is to join and participate in a local beach or river clean. Collecting plastic removes the obvious likelihood of it ending up in the oceans.
- Check your bathroom cabinets and throw away any exfoliants and toothpaste that you may have bought before January 2018. Not only will it free up some space, we all have those unused cosmetics at the back of the cupboard, but it will also ensure that you aren’t inadvertently using microplastics.
- Festival season is just around the corner and while glitter is extremely pretty and festive, it is also just very small pieces of plastic. While there are biodegradable options on the market, if you are in doubt, don’t use it.
- Avoid single use plastics and recycle wherever possible.
- Stop smoking. Aside from the obvious health benefits, cigarette butts are some of the most commonly collected pieces of litter found during beach cleans. They contain microplastics, so when washed into the sea will pollute the wildlife there.
If you are a business looking for ways to make your business more environmentally friendly, take a look at our blog post on 10 easy steps to make your business more eco-friendly.
If you would like to join us and help Reverse The Tide on single use plastics and other environmental issues then get in touch on email@example.com