17 January, 2020 17 January, 2020

Guts Full of Plastic

Sea levels are rising, pesticides and nutrients used in agriculture are depleting the oceans of oxygen, industrial discharge, sewage, and other runoff is altering its chemistry, fish stocks are being pillaged…. and then there’s still the issue of plastic. In fact, there’s such an ass tonne of plastic in the ocean that even the salt you season your food with has traces of plastic in it. Plastic is literally leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

*Cover Image – Rakesh Morar/ Issue 43.5, The Senses Issue. Missing out on quality Zag content? There’s a simple fix, become a subscriber now. 

Microplastics are defined as plastic bits smaller than 5mm. These synthetic speckles originate from a range of sources including bigger plastic debris that has broken down into smaller bits, exfoliants from health and beauty products to fibers from your activewear. This durable, non-biodegradable flotsam varies from the size of polystyrene beads to microscopic nanoparticles small enough to squeeze through cell membranes. Around 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tonnes are currently suspended in the sea. That’s about the same as 1345 adult blue whales. And 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy. You’d need to be Stephen Hawking to even come close to comprehending those stats. In case you were wondering… this is what 51 trillion looks like as a number – 51,000,000,000,000.

Here are some other hard stats to consider: Yes, we all know that whales are washing up, dead, with guts full of plastic, but did you know that 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption contain plastic? And not just in their stomachs. The debate is no longer if we are chowing down on plastic or not, but rather, how bad is it for us on a biological level?

While suspended at sea, plastic absorbs chemicals like PCBs and DDTs, like a sponge. These chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption and even some cancers. The problem is then exacerbated through trophic levels, meaning that toxins become more powerful as they work their way up the food chain, becoming more concentrated.

For example, the plankton eats the plastic, the little fish then eats the plankton, the bigger fish chomps down on the little fish and so on. Distilling and concentrating the toxins at every stage. 

Currently, around a truckload of plastic waste is being tipped into the ocean every minute. Unless there are vast improvements, this will become two truckloads per minute by 2030 and four loads by 2050. Which leads to that old chestnut about the seas containing more plastic than fish.

Even if you don’t eat fish, or go to the beach (unlikely, but those people do exist), all of us, without doubt, breathe! Over 50% of all that delicious oxygen is produced by marine plants. If ever there was a reason to look out for the overall well being of the ocean… that’s it. Our very lives depend on it. So ditch the lavish exfoliants, shed the synthetic fibers that make your ass look good, avoid buying into the convenience of plastic so we can get that table salt tasting just like old fashioned NaCl again.

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