Plastics

Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of

Read the full story in The Guardian.

In 2011, an ecologist released an alarming study showing that tiny clothing fibers could be the biggest source of plastic in our oceans. The bigger problem? No one wanted to hear it

Microplastic is an Abundant and Distinct Microbial Habitat in an Urban River

Amanda McCormick, Timothy J. Hoellein, Sherri A. Mason, Joseph Schluep, and John J. Kelly (2014). “Microplastic is an Abundant and Distinct Microbial Habitat in an Urban River.” Environmental Science & Technology Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/es503610r.

Abstract: Recent research has documented microplastic particles (< 5 mm in diameter) in ocean habitats worldwide and in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Microplastic interacts with biota, including microorganisms, in these habitats, raising concerns about its ecological effects. Rivers may transport microplastic to marine habitats and the Great Lakes, but data on microplastic in rivers is limited. In a highly urbanized river in Chicago, Illinois, USA, we measured concentrations of microplastic that met or exceeded those measured in oceans and the Great Lakes, and we demonstrated that wastewater treatment plant effluent was a point source of microplastic. Results from high-throughput sequencing showed that bacterial assemblages colonizing microplastic within the river were less diverse and were significantly different in taxonomic composition compared to those from the water column and suspended organic matter. Several taxa that include plastic decomposing organisms and pathogens were more abundant on microplastic. These results demonstrate that microplastic in rivers are a distinct microbial habitat and may be a novel vector for the downstream transport of unique bacterial assemblages. In addition, this study suggests that urban rivers are an overlooked and potentially significant component of the global microplastic life cycle.

October is Rise Above Plastics Month

Rise Above Plastics Month is a month-long initiative encouraging the public to reduce their plastic footprint and raise awareness about the harmful effects caused by single-use plastics in our marine and coastal environments, including the Great Lakes region. RAP logo

Throughout October, the Surfrider Foundation will ‘Rise Above Plastics’ by providing tips on how you can reduce your plastic footprint and simple ways to implement change in your daily routine. Take the Rise Above Plastics pledge to commit to using less plastics every day.

You can also join your local Surfrider Chapter’s annual plastic trash cleanup and enter Surfrider’s Plastic Art Contest. Show your creativity and help to raise awareness of the effects of plastic pollution. Enter to have a chance to win an epic prize pack including a Firewire Tibertek surfboard or Bureo skateboard, Spy + Surfrider Helm Sunglasses, ChicoBag and Surfrider gear.

The Rise Above Plastics program (RAP) is the Surfrider Foundation’s response to the problem of plastic litter in our ocean and marine environments. The goal of the program is to educate the public on the impacts single-use plastics have on marine environments, and how individuals can make changes in their daily lives and within their communities that will stem the flow of plastics into the environment. RAP also calls upon people to reduce their plastic footprint by reducing or eliminating the use of products such as single-use plastic water bottles and plastic bags.

Some facts about plastics compiled by RAP include:

  • The amount of plastic produced from 2000 – 2010 exceeds the amount produced during the entire last century.[1]
  • Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide.[2]
  • An estimated 100,000 marine mammals and up to 1 million sea birds die every year after ingesting or being tangled in plastic marine litter.[3]
  • Up to 80% of the plastic in our oceans comes from land-based sources.[4]
  • Plastics comprise up to 90% of floating marine debris.[5]
  • In 2009 about 3.8 million tons of waste plastic “bags, sacks and wraps” were generated in the United States, but only 9.4% of this total was recycled.[6]
  • Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break down into small particles that persist in the ocean, absorb toxins, and enter our food chain through fish, sea birds and other marine life.[7]
  • Plastic bags are problematic in the litter stream because they float easily in the air and water, traveling long distances and never fully breaking down in water.
  • Cleanup of plastic bags is costly. California spends $25 million annually to landfill discarded plastic bags, and public agencies spend more than $300 million annually in litter cleanup.[8]
  • It is estimated that Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year, or 360 bags per year for every man, woman and child in the country.[9]

Learn More

Plastics Pollution in the Great Lakes and the Marine Debris Problem
State University of New York researchers collaborated with the Los Angeles-based 5 Gyres Institute to study plastic pollutants in the Great Lakes Region. Read about their project and learn more about the problem of plastics pollution in the world’s water bodies. Newly updated to include recent research and news about microplastics pollution in the Great Lakes.

Federal legislation would ban microplastics in personal care products

Read the full story in Great Lakes Echo.

A New York U.S. senator recently introduced legislation to ban tiny plastic particles in personal care products.

These plastic microbeads are found in products like facial scrubs, body washes, hand cleansers and toothpastes. They are too small to be caught by wastewater treatment plants so they end up in large bodies of water like the Great Lakes.

Illinois has already banned plastic microbeads in consumer products and similar legislation is being considered in New York, Ohio and California.

Microplastic Pollution Discovered in St. Lawrence River Sediments

Read the full story from McGill University.

A team of researchers from McGill University and the Quebec government have discovered microplastics (in the form of polyethylene ‘microbeads,’ less than 2 mm in diameter) widely distributed across the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, the first time such pollutants have been found in freshwater sediments.

The microbeads likely originate from cosmetics, household cleansers, or industrial cleansers – all products in which they are commonly used as abrasives. Owing to their small size and buoyancy, they may readily pass through sewage treatment plants. Microplastics are a global contaminant in the world’s oceans, but have only recently been detected in the surface waters of lakes and rivers…

To access the full article: R.A. Castañeda, S. Avlijas, M.A. Simard, A. Ricciardi. 2014. “Microplastic pollution in St. Lawrence River sediments”. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/cjfas-2014-0281

Beer: a magical mixture of hops, barley, and tiny pieces of plastic

Read the full story in Grist.

Plastics are everywhere: on the street, in our refrigerators, all over the oceans — you name it. But now they’re hitting us where it really hurts. Authors of a new study published in the latest edition of Food Additives and Contaminants found traces of plastic particles (and other debris … we’ll get to this later) in beer.

This is how the study worked: Researchers lab-tested samples of 24 varieties of German beers, including 10 of the nation’s most popular brands. Through their superpowers of microscopic analysis, the team discovered plastic microfibers in 100 percent of the tested beer samples.