Nature and Environmental Writer: Emma Smith Investigates The Source Of Another Environmental Side Affect Of Plastic
Photo by ViniLowRaw
We are all aware of the harmful impact plastic has on our environment, and recycling is an imperative part of all our day-to-day routines. However, we are now facing the consequences of previous years spent overlooking this problem.
Tiny particles called micro-plastics are littering our planet and the reason we may not be aware of them is because they are not always visible to the human eye.
In 2015 420 million tonnes of plastic was produced
As a result of this astronomical statistic micro-plastics have been found in animals, drinking water, oceans and the Arctic. Studies show that on average humans ingest 50,000 micro-plastic particles every year; this carries health risks which are yet to be fully uncovered.
This means that the remaining 91% is left to slowly decompose. This plastic ends up going into the air, land and water, which is where micro-plastics come from. It’s estimated that a Styrofoam cup takes 50 years to biodegrade, and a plastic water bottle takes 450 years. It’s important to know that even biodegradable plastics can still turn into micro-plastics.
But the astonishing findings that have puzzled researchers mostly are the presence of micro-plastics in some of the most remote places on earth. Studies have found plastic in rainwater from the Rocky Mountains and in snow samples from the Arctic and the Alps. Specifically, in the Arctic Svalbard Islands researchers found 10,000 plastic particles per litre in the snow samples.
Melanie Bergman of Germanys Alfred Wegner Institute told the BBC:
“It’s readily apparent that the majority of the micro-plastic in the snow comes from the air.”
Micro-plastics are severely dangerous to animals, once ingested they can lead to starvation and death. Only last year a record-breaking concentration of micro-plastics was found trapped in the Arctic sea ice.
The most common plastics found are:
· Polymer based protective coatings
Author and chemist with the U.S Geological Survey Gregory Wetherbee, says the findings are a wake-up call. He also told The Guardian:
“There’s more plastic out there than meets the eye. It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s part of our environment now.”
Approaches tackling the prevention of toxic micro-plastics are fairly new. However, in September 2018 MEP’s approved a plastics strategy that aims to increase the recycling rate of plastic waste in the EU. And in October 2018, Parliament backed an EU ban on certain single use plastic products.
It’s certain that more research into the health risks and hindrance of micro-plastics needs to be done. Reducing single use plastic items, strengthening waste collection and designing products that are easier to recycle are only the current short-term goals.
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