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Curbing the scourge of microplastics

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“If only our species would realise that the consequences of our pollution effects all life on Earth, then perhaps we’d change our behaviour,” said Ian “Garbage Warrior” Dommisse, founder of Ecobrick Exchange.

“Continuing to use single-use plastics is like burying our heads in the sand and hoping that the plastic won’t find its way into our rivers or oceans. Instead, take charge and build a future to be proud of.”

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Microplastics are formed from the breakdown of larger plastic items by UV radiation and mechanical processes at sea, but the vast majority of it comes directly from our homes.

Tiny polyester fibres from our clothing, microbeads from our beauty products and dust from our carpets are all too small to be filtered out of our waste water, thus ending up in our ocean and beginning their journey up our food chain.

Poisoning ourselves

All this plastic moves up the food web, from plankton up into larger animals. As it moves up this chain, toxic chemicals get more and more concentrated. Guess who is on top of this chain? We are – and our pollution is affecting us!

Recent studies show that shellfish eaters consume as many as 10 000 pieces of plastic during a year. Up to 35% of commercially caught fish in the English Channel and Northern Pacific were found to be contaminated with plastic. 18% of tuna and other staple fish in the Mediterreanean Sea were polluted by plastic. Even inert substances, such as our culinary sea salt, have been contaminated by plastic.

A large animal like us has no trouble passing these bits of microplastic. The danger is that chemicals in plastic leach out over time, with these toxins building up in our own tissues and the meat of the food we consume.

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The above table is adapted from the Plastics in Seafood report by Greenpeace USA. We highly recommend giving this report a read; it details the ways seafood becomes contaminated, the way plastic and toxins move up the food chain and its inevitable impact on human health.

Microplastics are not known to pose a health risk to humans in present-day concentrations, but as time progresses toxins will concentrate higher on the food chain and this will eventually affect our health.

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