Plastic in your food?

By: Tiffany Lu


Introduction:


One may often see on the news that aquatic life is dying from microplastics.

One may think that it’s practically just litter or plastic waste. They might ponder how little pieces of plastic can kill organisms. However, microplastics demonstrate a great threat to the environment.


What are Microplastics:


The prefix of microplastic is micro, which means small. It is pieces of particles of plastic that are relatively tiny. Microplastics are broken down plastic from common plastic waste. Plastic such as single-use water bottles, shampoo bottles, plastic containers, and plastic bags end up virtually all around the earth. They end up in the oceans, air, land, river, etc. The mass findings of microplastics are not a great thing.


Microplastic in Bodies of Water:


Studies and research have been and still are being conducted on microplastics. Since microplastics are usually less than 5 millimeters long, finding those tiny particles in the vast ocean would be extremely hard. Not to even mention the complicated water currents and movement of the water. Hence, studying these microplastics would be a hardship. According to condorferries. co, a mindboggling 8 million pieces of plastic end up in our oceans every day. And an eye-opening amount of 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic and 46,000 pieces end up in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.


Impacts of Plastic on Marine Life:


This is a problem because, with this abundance of plastic/microplastic, animals often believe that plastic waste is food. Thus, they consume and usually overconsume something that their body is unfit to process. However, there is little knowledge about the specific body and health impacts of those animals who do consume the plastic. In addition, many organisms also get stuck in those larger plastics. Many may recall a plastic bag choking a sea turtle or a seagull stuck by those plastic six-pack rings. Similar to the health impacts, microplastic effects on animals are still being researched.


Why it’s concerning:


We as humans also consume animals. The seafood and meat we eat have the possibility of being animals that have been exposed to plastic. Not to mention, that since research is still being done regarding the health impacts of ingestion of microplastics, people could be also be negatively impacted. To add on, the water that is contaminated with plastic has toxic chemicals which could affect the health conditions of people. Plastic is also capable to absorb chemicals from the place they end up in. When exposed to this plastic, humans could develop devastating illnesses.

Our ocean is extremely important for oxygen production. According to National Geographic, about 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from marine plants and plant-like organisms. However, keep in mind the percentage varies from 50% to 80%. Nevertheless, oxygen-producing organisms are greatly significant. The biggest oxygen-producing organisms are phytoplankton, a variety of small oceanic organisms with a microscopic plant. For instance, bacteria and algae are both phytoplankton.

Like most plants, these organisms gain energy and grow through the process of photosynthesis. Thus, not only do they produce oxygen but also consume carbon dioxide. Through the process of photosynthesis, the phytoplankton would take in carbon from the atmosphere and reduce greenhouse gases. In addition to the rise in greenhouse gases within the atmosphere, phytoplankton has also increased their intake of CO2. Hence, proving themselves as valuable organisms within Earth.


The possible impact of Microplastics on Phytoplankton:


A NUIG research carried out together with scientists at UCC and Villefranche Sur Mer Laboratory in France have demonstrated that microplastics have a likely negative impact on phytoplankton. Through their experiment with salps, an organism that eats phytoplankton demonstrated that microplastics have the likely power to decrease the efficiency of plankton's potential to take in carbon dioxide.


Conclusion:


As of December 2020, there still an abundance of research and studies dealing with microplastics. The most one can do is to try and decrease one’s plastic waste. Although, everyone has different financial situations and it ultimately inevitable to buy single-use items, simple tips such as composting are low costing. In addition, we can continue to advocate for sustainable packaging and production from companies. Major corporations are the most responsible for the climate crisis. One can sign petitions, send letters, or protest! Those, who feel that they can invest in a sustainable lifestyle can start by looking at eco-friendly brands and shops on my Instagram!




To see this information in a more graphic-based form, check out my Instagram @earths_screams, or on my website. I will be sharing more fun and interactive information on there!



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Sources:


“Marine Microplastics.” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 6 Feb. 2019, www.whoi.edu/know-your-ocean/ocean-topics/pollution/marine-microplastics/.

O'Sullivan, Kevin. “Plastic Eaten by Plankton May Impair Oceans' Ability to Trap CO2.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 30 Apr. 2019, www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/plastic-eaten-by-plankton-may-impair-oceans-ability-to-trap-co2-1.3875434.

Parker, Laura. “Microplastics Have Moved into Virtually Every Crevice on Earth.” Science, 7 Aug. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/microplastics-in-virtually-every-crevice-on-earth/.

“100+ Plastic in the Ocean Statistics & Facts (2020).” Condor Ferries, www.condorferries.co.uk/plastic-in-the-ocean-statistics.

Witman, Sarah. “World's Biggest Oxygen Producers Living in Swirling Ocean Waters.” Eos, 14 Oct. 2017, eos.org/research-spotlights/worlds-biggest-oxygen-producers-living-in-swirling-ocean-waters.



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