Risks & Hazards of Microplastics

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“Microplastics in oceans outnumber the stars in our galaxy by 500 times” (Chow, 2017).

New research has exposed that fibers from our clothing are poisoning our waterways and food chains on a substantial scale. Microfibers, which are tiny threads that are shed from fabric, have been discovered in massive amounts along shorelines where wastewater is discharged. Due to the large scale found researches are attempting to pinpoint where exactly these plastic fibers are coming from.

Synthetic fabrics are winding  up in the oceans as a form of micro plastics. Each time synthetic clothes are washed microplastics are released into the water stream, resulting in polluted river and oceans worldwide (Woolworth, 2017). Mark Browne, an ecologist, released a study over this issue in 2011, where he stated that microfibers account for 85% of human-made debris located on shorelines across the globe (Messinger, 2016).

Browne also discovered that since the 1960s, the pollution of microfibers  has increased by over 450%. After demonstrating this information Browne reached out to the world’s leading outdoor retailers like Nike, Patagonia, and Polatec, in search of help investigating this issue,  none of them agreed. Although, as the amount of microplastics composing our oceans grow, so does the body of research. Since then, outdoor retailers have been forced to address the issue. In 2015, Patagonia authorized the University of California Santa Barbara to perform a research project over the notorious Patagonia fleece and its ability to shed microplastics. The research revealed that a single fleece jacket sheds over 250,000 synthetic fibers during a machine wash. Outside Magazine estimated that, “consumers across the world are laundering 100,000 Patagonia jackets each year, the amount of fibers being released into public waterways is equivalent to the amount of plastic in up to 11,900 grocery bags” (Woolworth, 2017). Furthermore, these fibers are not just a coast or marine concern, they are being found in freshwater as well. Of the 2,000 aquatic samples examined and processed by Browne, around 90% of the debris was microfibers in both oceans and freshwater.

The article “How Your Clothes Are Poisoning Our Oceans and Food Supply.”  specifically focuses on the massive impacts of microplastics on freshwater ecosystems. We constantly hear about microplastics affecting oceans. I was very surprised to find out that “The majority [71%] of what we’re finding in the tributaries are actually fibers,”..“They exceed fragments and pellets. It was shocking to see how plastic waste is consuming all of the bodies of water and shore lines. The Great Lakes are being affected by this plastic waste in many ways. The wildlife’s behaviors are being greatly affected. For example crabs that consumed microplastics ate significantly less than their counterparts. There are also chemicals in the makeup of the plastics that are leached into the environment and the marine life. BPA is a common one found in the production of plastics. BPA has shown to affect the sexing of fish. Originally created as a birth control hormone scientist found that it could work as a polymer as well. Because of these properties you see male fish’s sex organs changing to females. This directly affects the reproduction and continuation of the species. These chemicals can also stunt the growth of aquatic life. One of the other hazards is that microplastics have the inate ability to “absorb persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and to concentrate them in animals’ tissues.” Thus poisoning other animals on the food chain including humans.  (Messinger 2016)

How do these fibers get into our water supply? Scientist believe it is through our washing machines. Although the washing machine industry is not ready to take action to incorporate a filter for these micro plastics The Plastic Soup foundation, a nonprofit based out of Amsterdam, has devised a few methods of extraction. First being a waterless washing machine that uses pressurized carbon dioxide and the second a nanoball that will attract the small plastic fibers so they are not taken through our water systems. Many suggest that we should have a filter retrofitted to our washing machine but they also brought up the point that sometimes it is hard for people to even clean their lint from the filter. No matter what solution the industry or people at home choose, we are still looking at a vast and hazardous problem. The Plastic Soup foundation found that over “4,500 fibers can be released per gram of clothing” can be released in one single wash. (Messinger 2016) It’s no wonder why we are being buried in our own trash. It is time to step away from plastics. I believe the future generations will look back on the era of one-use and plastics as outlandish as we look at the schools spraying DBT in the cafeteria while students were eating.  

Since Browne’s research, Patagonia has released a comprehensive update to examine the developing concern of ocean pollution from tiny fibers, which typically originate from synthetic textiles like nylon, acrylics and polyester, and can be found in products available to consumers across the globe.

According to Patagonia, “Research about microplastics pollution is just starting to emerge among scientists and our industry, but the shedding of microfibers from synthetic garments is a real concern. We’re taking it seriously—committing significant resources to learn more about the scope of the problem and develop an understanding of what steps we can take to help create impactful solutions” (Patagonia, 2017). Since the summer of 2016, Patagonia claims to have taken multiple actions and addressing key factors.  

Patagonia states that microfibers found in our ocean can come from a wide variety of textiles, like nylon, polyester, rayon, acrylic, and spandex, essentially everything, “from running shorts to yoga pants to fleece jackets and more” (Patagonia, 2017) Which demonstrates the need for commitment by all apparel industries throughout each product’s life cycle. Patagonia goes on to explain that apparel products are not the sole source for microplastics finding their way into our oceans. Other industries that contribute to this issue are fishing nets, bottle caps, packaging and plastic bags that eventual break down in the water. For Patagonia, the utmost concern to move forward is to “quantify the magnitude of the contribution of the various sources of microplastics to oceans” (Patagonia, 2017). Another fact made was that articles of clothing made with higher quality have been found to shed less when washing than products of lower quality synthetic products, which emphasizes the significance for not only manufacturers but also consumers to spend their money in gear made to last. Washing machines are a key step in the pollution process, which led Patagonia to focus on common appliances in households. Wastewater treatment plants are able to filter out around 65-92 percent of microfibers but are still responsible for a large amount of waste contributed to the environment. Patagonia set out plans for bringing their research to appliance industries and waste operators.

When Patagonia coordinated a group of scientists, academics and public advocates at their headquarters located in Ventura to examine the pollution of microplastics they determined that there is still a large body of knowledge that remains unknown. Patagonia has decided since the release of Browne’s research that they will take the leading role in researching this topic, “to inform clear headed decision making by everyone: the apparel and appliance industries, waste operators, other researchers, the media and more” (Patagonia, 2017).

Whenever we talk about microplastic, the first thing to think about is the tiny piece of plastic which floats on ocean or something get eaten by aquatic animals. Either floated plastic or these pieces eaten by animals would cause potential danger for human-being and primarily make inconvenience to daily life.

Two researchers from California are working on govern the plastic pollution on ocean and they always find bottles or bags everywhere. However, bottles and bags are not the big issues since they are visible and easy to pick. There are more troublesome things exist in ocean, which is the plastic beads. As we know, these beads are very tiny and some of them are transparent in water. According to Eriksen, most of these beads are from “beauty product” such as facial scrubs and cleansers. In other word, as we keep our body clean, we are throwing a lot of microbeads to our sewer systems or further to the grand water system. Our behaviour is actually hurting our living place badly, since some of these microbeads could react chemically with water to produce toxin and could also release heavy metal and oil to the water system.

These little beads sounds horrible right? However, Eriksen has told us a way to reduce it. There is: pick some products which has not include polyethylene or polystyrene, you can check it on the ingredients list. If all of us use the harmless beauty product,  there will be much less pressure to the water system from these beads.

Since the plastic is everywhere of the ocean nowaday, we can imagine every time we eat seafood, there will be some pieces of plastic gets into our mouth. Could you guess how many pieces plastic you might eat every year? There is a research from the University of Ghent in Belgium shows for Europeans, they consume almost 11000 pieces of plastic every year. It means they nearly eat 30 pieces plastic everyday, it sounds disgusting but it is the truth. More than that, we need consider where these plastic would go. Few of them would get absorbed by our body but most of them are just accumulated in our body. And if you keep eating more, it accumulates more. It sounds a little scary but it there are not enough evidence shows if they are toxic for our body. However, it’s enough to warn people to pay more attention on the plastic pollution in ocean. The number of plastic trash in the ocean for now is uncountable and we could never clean all of them. The only way we can make ourselves safer from ocean is to stop throwing trash into ocean and also need protect it as well, since the food chain always bring the trash to our table.

Sources:

“An Update on Microfiber Pollution.” The Cleanest Line. N.p., 07 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://www.patagonia.com/blog/2017/02/an-update-on-microfiber-pollution/>.

Coleman, Stuart. “The Dangers of Microbeads”. Spirituality & Health. Spirituality & Health. LLC. Jan 2014. Web. 19 Apr 2017.

<http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/dangers-microbeads&gt;

Chow, Lorraine. “Microplastics in Oceans Outnumber Stars in Our Galaxy by 500 Times.”EcoWatch. EcoWatch, 24 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://www.ecowatch.com/microplastics-world-ocean-summit-2282357538.html>.

Messinger, Leah. “How Your Clothes Are Poisoning Our Oceans and Food Supply.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 20 June 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads>.

Moore, Thomas. “Microplastics in seafood could be a health risk, experts fear.” SkyNews. Sky UK. 25 Jan 2017. Web. 19 Apr 2017.

<http://news.sky.com/story/microplastics-in-seafood-could-be-a-health-risk-experts-fear-10739835&gt;

Whoolworth, Rachel. “Your Synthetic Shirt Is Killing Ocean Life.” Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. N.p., 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017. <http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/newswire/microplastics-invisible-ocean-pollutant/&gt;.

Innovation Towards a Cleaner Ocean

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There are well over five trillion pieces of plastic littering the ocean right now. This trash accumulates in five oceanic garbage patches, the largest of which is located in between Hawaii and California. The good news is that even as the trash increases so does the number of people working on innovations to prevent or minimize the environmental damage.

Marina Trash Skimmer

While having lunch on the coast of California, Louis Pazos watched as volunteers picked up trash along the beach. As soon as they had one area cleaned the wind would blow more rubbish, it was a never ending cycle. Pazos became fed up of swimming with trash bags and other garbage and decided it was time to make a plan. Since then  he has spent time working on the Marina Trash Skimmer, which is a, “a floating container that’s fastened to the side of a dock and looks like a Dumpster semi-submerged in water. It’s equipped with a pump that circulates water through its filter system, gently sucking in and trapping debris inside” (Hill, 2016). Pazos stated that the Marina Trash Skimmer was garbage that everyone ignored at first. However, now instead of allowing it to sink to the bottom of the seafloor or drift away in the ocean they are collecting the rubbish and preventing further environmental damage.  Since 2006, when he first began his test runs in Long Beach Harbor, Pazos has installed forty-nine Marina Trash Skimmers in Hawaii, California (with six in Newport beach), Oregon, and Texas. So far these skimmers have managed to collect and eliminate over one million pounds (or five hundred tons) primarily composed of plastic based debris.

The Ocean CleanUp

Boyan Slat, the 21 year old founder of The Ocean Cleanup released his plans to “deploy 100 kilometers of passive floating barriers in an effort to clean up 42% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patches plastic pollution in 10 years” (Kratochwill, 2016). This nonprofit organization has raised over two million dollars to carry out these plans. The system has been designed to rely on the wind, waves, and currents which will push the plastic floating along the ocean into screens that expand from the barriers acting as a skirt. The basic idea is that the current will go through the screens which will prevent “bycatch” of plants and animals. The v-shape of the system will concentrate the plastic pieces at the middle of the center. Once this has happened they will sort and process the plastic, which will then be collected every six weeks by a boat. Slat hopes that the plastic pieces that have been gathered can then be sold as recycled material. Slat explained that, “…what we’re trying to achieve has never been done before,” Slat says. It’s 100 times bigger than anything that’s ever been deployed in the ocean. It’s 50% deeper, and 10 times more remote than the world’s most remote oil rig. So obviously there [are] technical challenges.” (Kratochwill, 2016)

Innovative Tech Applied in Hawaii

While innovation is amazing and is often much better than turning a blind eye to our microplastics problem, it isn’t enough alone. At this time there is no magic bullet to cleanse our oceans of the garbage patches that pollute them, and there won’t be one for some time. Scientists estimated that to clean up all five garbage patches it would take 1000 boats, filtering water 24 hours a day, 79 years to clean up every piece of garbage. That doesn’t even take into account the infeasibility of surveying the entirety of the ocean for garbage to ensure a job well done. In fact, it was estimated that it would take 68 ships a full year to even survey a measly one percent of just the North Pacific.

So, it’s obvious that the solution to our problem will take some time. However, there are things we can do to buy time for technology to catch up to innovative ideas such as garbage eating nanobots. We can take steps to limit our purchase and usage of products containing microplastics, as well as spend a few hours here and there raising awareness.

Every year Hawaii has to face the serious oceanic plastic problem which terribly pollutes the its coastline. Since 1970s, there were 15 to 20 tons garbage got cleaned up extend almost 9 miles of coastline around South Point each year. From experts, there around five main patches of garbage and if we want to clean them up, it would need 1000 cleaning boats to filter water 24 hours for 79 years, such an impossible mission. This huge amount of trash which come from local people and most of come from globe. According to geographers’ analysis, it claims that location of Hawaii decides it has to bear these global plastic trash. Basically, Hawaii is located in a circular system of ocean currents which means all the outcome trash from Pacific Ocean would be stacked and trapped to Hawaii bay and the get push to the long coastline of Hawaii. It is quite ironic that such a beautiful place becomes to a global garbage dumping ground of oceanic plastic.

Even the disadvantages of Hawaii’s geographical position make Hawaii to be troubled with plastic pollution, there are still many volunteers who are willing to clean them up to keep the island clean and beautiful. However, the effort of volunteers to pick up trash is not enough at all for Hawaii and so there are several plans were made to clean trash efficiently. Some designers and engineers have produced marine drones and waterborne kites to drain. And another idea from London college students is to create biotechnological microorganism to “eat” or break down these plastic trash(it would still stay in ocean though). And another way to relieve the pressure to main Hawaii island is turn all the garbage into a recycled island and let people to figure these trashes sustainably.

While the oceanic plastic problem seems to unsolvable, there are still lots of researchers and engineers who are trying to keep this island clean. Therefore, the innovation of an efficient plan has to be formulate and other people should be always aware to save our ocean.

The Sea Vax

The efforts to help keep our ocean clean have been a major problem in our society. The oceans have been polluted in for many years and it has gotten worse in recent years. An invention called SeaVax is a new roaming, satellite-controlled aluminum platform powered by sun and wind operates like a giant vacuum cleaner, chewing up and compressing the toxic garbage. The 160ft long vessel is now at the top of the idea line for solutions that try to help clean our oceans and prevent our sea life from dying due to waste in the ocean. The Seavax has sensors on it to help detect the trash, also it has sonar technology that protects marine and bird life from getting caught in it. After the Bluebird Marine System worked on the Seavax for over a year they have sent the idea passed the proof of the concept stage. There have already been many inquiries from other countries that are interested in the idea because it would help them clean things like their rivers. “Innovate UK gave us a free stand at its show which has helped put us on the map, now we are looking to Europe and government for the next stage of serious backing,” says Close.

While there has already been many offers to invest money into SeaVax there is a lot more money that will be needed in the long run. If  SeaVax were to launch it would be a big hit internationally for business with people in the business of waste management to government agencies.

Sources:

Cleanup, Www.theoceancleanup.com The Ocean. “Technology.” The Ocean Cleanup. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. <https://www.theoceancleanup.com/technology/&gt;.

Hill, Taylor. “Can These Inventions Save Oceans From Our Plastic Habit?” TakePart. N.p., 27 June 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. <http://www.takepart.com/feature/2016/06/27/oceans-cleanup&gt;.

Kratochwill, Lindsey. “Too Good to Be True? The Ocean Cleanup Project Faces Feasibility Questions.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 26 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/26/ocean-cleanup-project-environment-pollution-boyan-slat>.

Anja Krieger / Ensia. (2016, February 25). Why Innovative Tech Solutions to Clean Up Oceanic Plastic Trash Are Simply Not Enough. Retrieved April 05, 2017, from http://www.alternet.org/environment/why-innovative-tech-solutions-clean-oceanic-plastic-trash-are-simply-not-enough

Microplastics in the Marine Environment

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Over the past few decades society’s waste and non renewable usage has been growing at a rampant pace. As a result, we’re left with tons of garbage and debris that litters our planet. One of the most glaring incidences of increased waste accumulation are the garbage patches of the Pacific Ocean. While the garbage patches are incredibly expansive in size, it isn’t the patches themselves that are the main problem. The plastics that make up a good portion of the floating trash islands take an immense amount of time to decompose, thus making their impact much more expansive than that of other debris.These plastics break up over time into much smaller plastic particles called microplastics. Microplastics are often so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but their small size is what makes them so dangerous. Many sea dwelling creatures mistake microplastics for food, and as a result ingest massive quantities of them.

While it may seem easy to disregard the amount of microplastic in the sea for some, it is quickly becoming apparent how far reaching the consequences of microplastics are. All manner of sea life are turning up in our supermarkets and on our plates that have abnormally high levels of microplastics in their bodies. Therefore, the results of human pollution are coming full circle to the very “dinner tables” of society at large. This topic like many environmental topics has wide reaching effects. Not only is this issue nonpartisan. It stretches among all the countries of the world. Infact this issue tends to not effect the countries releasing all of this plastic waste into the oceans, it affect small populations that inhabit islands far away from our coasts. Although we do not see the grand effects from our plastic use, the rest of the world does and they are not happy with the countries, who dispose of so much waste via the oceans.

Due to the rapid growth of microplastics in the marine environment, there has been a steady increase in accumulation of toxic substances which can lead to toxic pollutants in the food web which have serious health consequences. This is because the plastic can actually absorb toxins that it comes into contact with and then contaminate its surroundings and anything that digests the plastics. Often, fish and other animals in the ocean will mistake the plastic waste for prey and consume the microplastics. This leads to a vast amount of health implications on the fish such as, lowered steroid hormone level, delayed ovulation, internal injuries and many more. The chemicals in these plastics are proven to be very toxic. They often contain plasticizers such as, Bisphenol A and dibutyl phthalates which are integrated in the plastics during the manufacturing process. While these plastics are on the surface, they become toxic and percolate into the environment or animal tissues when ingested. Here has been evidence that these toxins can change the sex of marine animals as well as have dire effects as it makes its way up the food chain. These plastic have been found in the large marine animals.  Also, microplastics can alter the natural conditions of marine habitats.   The constant increase in microplastic in the marine environment is proven to “influence the socioeconomic systems by changing the environmental quality for future generations.”  For example, in the Pacific Ocean, the steady increase of microplastics could impact the fishing industry in the near future. The impacts of microplastics can lead to output loss or loss of value in the sales for the fishing industry. Not only does this affect the industry but it effects the animals that consume these fish, including humans.

In this blog we will attempt to show you the background and history of Microplastics in Marine Environments as well as the current status and controversies. Lastly we will give a critique of the current practices to deal with this issue and wrap it up with closing comments and a take home message for the reader.  We will be using web article, peer-reviewed journal articles, and videos to help convey the importance of remediation of our oceans, specifically focusing on microplastics.

Ogunola OS, Palanisami T (2016) Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Current Status, Assessment Methodologies, Impacts and Solutions. J Pollut Eff Cont 4:161. doi:10.4172/2375-4397.1000161