Plastic: The miracle material turned micro menace – Dawn Woodward

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  Posted by: The Probe      4th July 2019

It’s been several months since the highly anticipated Our Planetdocuseries was released on Netflix. Narrated by the beloved Sir David Attenborough, Our Planethas received fantastic praise for showcasing the beauty and fragility of nature in all its cinematographic glory. The awe-inspiring docuseries has also further demonstrated the complicated relationship we have with the natural world, sounding the alarm on a wide range of man-made issues. These include climate change, overfishing, deforestation, and – more specifically – the detrimental impact of plastic pollution on the environment.  

We are all waking up to the reality of plastic pollution. The crisis remains a hot topic among governments, scientists, businesses, environmental groups, and the general public worldwide. Most people are aware that there are great “islands” of plastic waste choking our rivers, lakes and oceans, but many fail to realise that so-called microplastics could be an even more harmful problem. Much of the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the seas every year eventually disintegrates into smaller fragments known as microplastics – no bigger than 5 millimetres in size.[i]Approximately 51 trillion pieces of these plastic particles already litter the seas, equating to 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.[ii]

These statistics emphasise the magnitude of the microplastic problem, which many scientists believe could be physically and toxicologically damaging to both the environment and ourselves. According to research, microplastics are being mistaken for food and ingested by marine wildlife – from small molluscs and crustaceans, to sea birds, turtles and whales – indicating that microplastics have become part of the food chain.[iii]This is an alarming trend considering how much seafood is consumed regularly by people all over the world.

We are now aware that microplastics can block an animal’s digestive tract, diminish their urge to eat, and alter their feeding behaviour – all of which can adversely affect their ability to grow and reproduce. Some animals eventually starve and die as a result of being unable to digest the huge quantities of plastic that remain in their stomach. Besides these mechanical effects, there is concern that microplastics could have a dangerous chemical impact, due to their ability to absorb toxic substances and release them into an animal’s digestive system.[iv]Some experts theorise that potentially toxic nanoparticles of plastic can migrate through the intestinal wall during digestion and enter the bloodstream, which could have even further implications for us as seafood consumers.[v]

Further research is required to substantiate claims that microplastic is damaging to overall human health, but it has become an increasingly alarming issue – one that emphasises the importance of limiting plastic pollution worldwide. This begins with understanding where microplastics come from. You know by now that some of these are a result of bigger plastic pieces disintegrating over time, but there are other sources of microplastic waste that many people are not necessarily aware of. For instance, 35% of primary microplastics present in the ocean are the consequence of laundering synthetic clothes made from plastic fibres such as polyester and nylon.[vi]Many of these fibres fall off as we wash our clothes and are eventually released into the sea if they are not captured by wastewater treatment plants.

Another source of microplastic pollution can be found in our bathrooms. Many cosmetic and healthcare products – including body scrubs, lotions, lipsticks, nail polish, and toothpaste – contain microplastic beads. These are designed to exfoliate the body once applied, but are eventually washed down the drain as microplastic waste. According to the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons in Britain, a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.[vii]Thankfully, increased awareness of this worrying trend has put greater pressure on governments across the globe to ban the use of microplastic in a wide range of goods. 

Some companies have already ceased producing cosmetic and healthcare products that contain microbeads, as part of helping to tackle the wider issue of plastic pollution. Leading oral healthcare specialist, Curaprox, is committed to supplying innovative solutions that are environmentally-friendly, but enable patients to boost their oral health. The highly popular Black Is White and Be You ranges of toothpaste do not contain any microplastic particles, while CPS interdental brushes have been designed with reusable handles and replaceable brush heads to further encourage patients to minimise waste.

Our carelessness with regard to plastic production and disposal has caused this miracle material to become the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our rivers, lakes and oceans.[viii]The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, the sea could contain more plastic than fish.[ix]Faced with this potential reality, it’s no wonder that public concern continues to snowball, with more and more people becoming empowered to take action against plastic pollution. Real observable change is possible, so long as we allrecognise our responsibility to ensure that plastic does not become a permanent burden on the beautiful world we call home.

 

For more information please call 01480 862084, email info@curaprox.co.ukor visit www.curaprox.co.uk

 

References

[i]Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R. and Law, K. L. (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science. 347(6223): 768-771.

[ii]United Nations. (2017) ‘Turn the tide on plastic’ urges UN, as microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in our galaxy. Link: https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/02/552052-turn-tide-plastic-urges-un-microplastics-seas-now-outnumber-stars-our-galaxy. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[iii]Parker, L. (2017) Ocean Life Eats Tons of Plastic – Here’s Why That Matters. Link: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/ocean-life-eats-plastic-larvaceans-anchovy-environment/. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[iv]Royte, E. (2018) We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life – What About Us? National Geographic. Link: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-waste-microplastics/. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[v]Gallo, F., Fossi, C., Weber, R., Santillo, D., Sousa, J., Ingram, I., Nadal, A. and Romano, D. (2018) Marine litter plastics and microplastics and their toxic chemicals components: the need for urgent preventive measures. Environmental Sciences Europe. 30(1): 13. doi:10.1186/s12302-018-0139-z. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5918521/. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[vi]European Parliament. (2018) Microplastics: sources, effects and solutions. Link: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181116STO19217/microplastics-sources-effects-and-solutions. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[vii]Parliament UK. (2016) MPs urge Government to ban microbeads in cosmetics. Link:https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news-parliament-2015/microplastics-report-published-16-17/. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[viii]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Unknown) What are microplastics? Link: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].

[ix]World Economic Forum. (2016) More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050: Report Offers Blueprint for Change. Link: https://www.weforum.org/press/2016/01/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-ocean-by-2050-report-offers-blueprint-for-change/. [Last accessed: 12.04.19].


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