Monday Moaning

We’ve done it!

The Pacific Garbage Patch is a Texas-sized swirling mass of the world's mostly plastic garbage floating around in the North Pacific Ocean.

We all know that our oceans and seas are polluted with plastic, bottles, bags and all sorts of plastic crap that is thrown out on a daily basis. Plastic containers left on the beach, trash from rivers, garbage from ships, fishing nets, etc. This pollution is a plague, totally out of all proportion and control.

On land we try to recycle as much as possible, but what happens when it gets to the sea?

The Pacific Gyre is the size of Texas, that’s hell of a lot of plastic; you imagine Texas covered in three feet of plastic. Check out this disaster on Greenpeace’s Pacific Vortex and you’ll get an idea of how disastrous this is.

If that is not enough to shock you, I’m going to refer to a BBC News article that will, and it’s not about the Pacific Gyre, it’s about your laundry, your neighbour’s laundry, every laundry in the world that has a washing machine!

Accumulating ‘microplastic’ threat to shores

Concentrations of microplastic were greatest near coastal urban areas, the study showed

Microscopic plastic debris from washing clothes is accumulating in the marine environment and could be entering the food chain, a study has warned.

Researchers traced the “microplastic” back to synthetic clothes, which released up to 1,900 tiny fibres per garment every time they were washed.

Earlier research showed plastic smaller than 1mm were being eaten by animals and getting into the food chain.

The findings appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“This really led us to the idea of what sorts of plastic are there and where did they come from.”

Dr Browne, a member of the US-based research network National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, said the tiny plastic was a concern because evidence showed that it was making its way into the food chain.

“Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” he told BBC News.

In order to identify how widespread the presence of microplastic was on shorelines, the team took samples from 18 beaches around the globe, including the UK, India and Singapore.

“We found that there was no sample from around the world that did not contain pieces of microplastic.”

Scanning microscope image of nylon fibres The smallest fibres could end up causing huge problems worldwide

Dr Browne added: “Most of the plastic seemed to be fibrous.

“When we looked at the different types of polymers we were finding, we were finding that polyester, acrylic and polyamides (nylon) were the major ones that we were finding.”

The data also showed that the concentration of microplastic was greatest in areas near large urban centres.

In order to test the idea that sewerage discharges were the source of the plastic discharges, the team worked with a local authority in New South Wales, Australia.

“We found exactly the same proportion of plastics,” Dr Browne revealed, which led the team to conclude that their suspicions had been correct.

As a result, Dr Browne his colleague Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth, UK carried out a number of experiments to see what fibres were contained in the water discharge from washing machines.

“We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash,” Dr Browne observed.

“It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash, it shows how things can build up.

“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”

Source: BBC News

It appears that regardless of the visible plastic that pollutes the oceans, regardless of how much plastic we recycle, there is a greater threat that has existed longer.

Your laundry, your washing machine, it turns out,  is one of the greatest dangers to mankind. Microplastic entering the sea, eaten by fish, we eat the fish whose metabolism has been altered by the plastic.

This is the strongest argument that I have seen for a return to 100% natural fibres and a return to hand washing. Remember the days when the washing water was used to water the garden and wasn’t wasted down the sewer.

Once again mankind in his rush to make life easier with washing machines and synthetic fibres has damaged the natural balance of the eco-system, perhaps beyond recovery.

Imagine: 7,000,000,000 people washing a shirt a day means that each week we potentially pour 93.1 quadrillion pieces of microplastic into the rivers and sewers of the world, and we haven’t even discussed socks, underwear and trousers. That’s 4.74 quintillion a year; I can’t even imagine a number that large, I don’t even know if quintillion exists…

Update:

It does, I just checked, Rubik’s Cube has 43 quintillion +/- possible combinations.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. My husband read this article to me yesterday. This morning he asked “So are you still going to eat fish now you know what’s in it”. Yesterday he was asking me why I wasn’t responding or ranting to the article. And I really don’t know. It’s kind of as if I knew it was coming, only a matter of time and unless I grow everything myself I’ll have to become a breatharian to consume anything clean. But oh wait! The air is full of poison too and so is the rain that fall from the sky. I have to cling onto the hope that somewhere, SOMEWHERE within our souls evolution we know what we are doing,. Hmmmm.
    I think I just feel sad and resigned about the whole thing. It’s clearly a dispondant kinda day for me….

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    • @mrsgreen, it’s more than terribly depressing knowing that there is nothing on this planet that we haven’t ruined. You are right, we can’t eat, drink nor breathe without some form of contamination to a greater or lesser degree. Resignation is our only defence. Each and everything we do is against Mother Nature. I wonder if that is part of her plan… dominant species die to be replaced as a part of the planet’s evolution; much as we lay fallow ground and rotate crops. Now, there’s a sobering thought, as far as Mother Nature is concerned we are nothing more than a form of fertiliser for the earth. Kinda bursts the bubble of our self-importance, doesn’t it?

      AV

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  2. I wonder how we managed to screw up the entire planet within a hundred year time span. It unnerves me that there is BPA in pretty high concentrations in breast milk, and yes, plastic in the fish we eat. We already know there are heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. I tell people that they can make a change to their corner of the earth but, at the end of the day, can we really unscrew what has been totally screwed?

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    • @organicblonde, hence my opening gambit, ‘We’ve done it!’, and the despondent part is we’ve really succeeded. I believe some of the things we have done, like this microplastic are irreversible because it actually mutates cells, so “can we unscrew what we’ve screwed up on”? I don’t think so, some things yes, but mutating cells is pretty permanent. With this latest ‘discovery’ it makes me wonder what else have we done that we don’t yet know about? I have said in other posts that we have sealed our fate and that is eventual extinction. Totally morbid, but true.

      AV

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  3. I say, Push Back.
    It starts with us: what we do or don’t buy affects the eventual waste stream and (because our planet lives on cycles) it will eventually come back to us. There is a very small but growing number of people who have started to push back against the plastic tide – see http://myplasticfreelife.com. Each one of us can do only a little bit – but it is crucially important that we do what we can. The good news (sort of) is, plastic is everywhere, so it’s easy to make a start.
    More good news: Oakland CA is banning plastic grocery bags. So are a number of cities in India. Heck, even Marks&Sparks is phasing them out. There haven’t been plastic grocery bags in the Netherlands since the 1970s.
    So you are not alone. Push back. Our children don’t need all those endocrine disruptors. Nor do we, come to think of it.

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    • @CelloMom, you are right everything boomerangs and the pushing back is necessary. My whole point is that even pushing back, our fate has been sealed by the past. Plastic free, what a wonderful idea, I see by your blog that you are passionate about it. Here in Brazil, the only main food items that I can buy are vegetables from the sacolão (local vege shop) that are not in plastic and I take my reusable shopping bag. The supermarkets insist that all vegetables go in bags for security reasons. I can get away with no polystyrene tray at the bakery, just the ‘Gladwrap’ hygiene reasons, the girls there know me. At the check out I insist on a box if I have come straight from work on an impromptu visit and haven’t got my reusable bags. São Paulo state has just banned plastic check out bags in ALL retail outlets, starts 1st February. I didn’t know that about the Netherlands, interesting, and a good model for us all.

      Thanks for the visit and comment, appreciated.

      AV

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  4. One of the biggest things that aggravates me about plastic bottles is the idea that they “are recyclable”. A plastic bottle will never again be a plastic bottle. It may become carpet or polar fleece, but as long as we continue to demand plastic drink bottles, we’ll continue to deplete the resources to make them. I think the first step is to realize nobody was dying of thirst before someone “invented” water in plastic bottles and start either finding a water fountain or carrying a thermos.

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    • @FreshGreenKim, absolutely right. But then of course in those days tap water and city water supplies were drinkable and didn’t have fluoride. The tap water in Rio is marginally drinkable, many don’t drink it but buy water; also it has fluoride. I’m too old now to be worried about F, so I drink it. Today in many parts of the world the only way to avoid F is to buy bottled water, which supposedly comes from natural springs before treatment processes.

      The main aim of this post was not so much about the ‘big’ plastic, although any comment is valid, as this newly discovered threat of microplastics and how the damage is done, it may well not be reversible or fixed.

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, appreciated.

      AV

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  5. I read that article about synthetic fibers and have been paying more attention to what kind of clothing I wear. Most of it is natural fiber already, since that’s what I find comfortable, but I do have a few rayon things which I’m told are not biodegradable (even if they’re made out of bamboo!). It’s alarming how much impact even the smallest, most personal actions like choosing what to wear have.

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    • @noteasy, it just demonstrates how much we don’t know, how much the smallest details affect the environment and consequently us. What else is lurking out there that we have yet to find out about?
      Thanks for the comment and visit, appreciated.

      AV

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  6. I guess we have pretty much destroyed everything…sigh!

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