It is no secret that the Earth’s environment is presently experiencing significant degradation of one of its natural resources at a rate that is ever increasing. In a recent study, scientists have estimated that there are currently millions of tons of plastic waste in the Earth’s oceans. More alarming, however, is that much of that plastic is making its way up the food chain to your dinner plate.
A recent study focusing on the Great Lakes of Michigan has proven that plastic microfibers from one’s clothing are infiltrating the world’s large bodies of water. Stemming from synthetic fabrics like polyester and polyurethane, tons of microfibers are flushed down the drain from washing machines, through sewage treatment plants, and into local rivers and lakes.
The study sampled 18 species of fish, and all were found to be contaminated. As Time Magazine reports, Laura Kammin, a pollution prevention program specialist with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, explained that once the fish feed, the microfibers “get enmeshed in their GI [gastrointestinal] tracts.”
Not only do humans eat the microfibers that are ingested and lodged in the fish that are caught and cooked to serve, but the microplastics also pose a greater threat to aquatic organisms and humans alike. In that “the microfibers are composed of chemical contaminants such as endocrine disrupters, neurotoxins, and carcinogens.”
Rochman, who works off the Californian coast, has found plastic-contaminated fish in one of the world’s largest bodies of water — the Pacific Ocean. The issue of contaminated fish grows ever larger, due to the amount of plastic waste found and dumped into the ocean.
Highlighting this issue, the February 13 issue of Science Magazine featured a study entitled Plastic Waste Input from Lands into Oceans, in which scientists calculated that there were 4.8 to 12.7 million MT (metric tons) of plastic waste in the oceans in 2010, with that amount set to double by 2025. Due to oceanic currents, much of this plastic forms large garbage patches where fish get caught and feed on the smaller items.
Kara Lavender, an author of the study published in Science Magazine, noted that the annual global tuna catch amounts to approximately 5 million metric tons. Essentially, “we are taking out tuna, and putting in plastic.”
Regarding the larger debris making its way into the oceans, in an interview with NBC News, Jenna Jambeck, fellow author of Plastic Waste, stated, “We know the solution. We must cut back on plastic waste generation, and increase the amount we capture and manage properly.”
[Featured image courtesy of Carlos Jasso / REUTERS]