Okay, so I know the majority of the World has a general understanding of the effects that plastic is having on our planet and its overall health, however, I do not think that most of us realize that there has already been a direct impact on the human population.
Tiny particles called “micro-plastics“, which are identified as extremely small pieces (less than 5mm) of plastic debris in the environment resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste, have made their way into something we, as humans, use on a daily basis.
Last October, I spent a month in Indonesia with Dylan. We spent a lot of time exploring, learning about the different cultures and religions, and tasting exotic foods and drinks. Majority of Indonesia, Bali specifically, is rather clean. It is not like some areas in Ontario where you walk around and see tons of garbage or plastic debris on the sides of the streets. So, in turn, we figured this cleanliness would continue when we got to the beaches. Right???? Sadly, we were wrong.
Some (not all) of the beaches we visited were heavily infested with tonnes of plastic debris. Why? Because of lazy tourists. When traveling to an exotic country such as Indonesia, of course their are concerns about the safety of drinking the local water, making tourists turn to bottled water instead. I cannot argue that Dylan and I opted for the same choice, but you never caught us tossing our empty bottles to the shore line.
So what effect is this having?
First of all, although the plastic we see is often resting along the shore line, when the tide rises, all of the plastic debris along the shore is being washed into the oceans. Not only are the oceans soaking up chemicals from the plastics, animals are ingesting them and becoming severely entangled within them. Sea creatures such as turtles, dolphins and whales are often mistaking different plastics for food. Seals and sea lions are often found tangled up inside of plastic netting, fishing lines or various sizes of plastic bags.
More often than not, plastic becomes embedded or wrapped around the organs of our sea creatures. When the animals ingest the plastic, they will eat less food, producing less energy, and in turn, reducing the overall health of our oceans.
As larger pieces of plastic debris, such as water bottles, food packaging or plastic bags sit in our oceans, it begins to slowly break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. Some, eventually becoming less than 5mm in size.
Zooplankton, teeny tiny organisms that very weakly swim through our oceans, are one of the most important parts of the food chain. Almost every ocean organism depends on the existence of zooplankton for their own survival. Even though these organisms are microscopic, they are still capable of ingesting micro-plastics. Whether they ingest them while breathing or while searching for food, its happening.
It is possible that larger fish will not ingest plastic debris orally, but they will, at some point or another, ingest Zooplankton. The cycle is inevitable.
Smaller fish, such as catfish, perch, or trout, that bring water in through their gills to breath, are at an increased risk for ingestion of micro-plastics.
Why am I mentioning these animals specifically? – Because these are the fish most commonly ingested by humans. Plastic ingested by fish = plastic ingested by humans.
How can you help?
Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. I cannot say it enough. RECYCLE!! It’s a very easy habit to implement within your home and it has so much more of a positive effect on the world than most of us realize!
STOP using face-washes, cleansers or exfoliants that contain micro-beads. These are SO bad because they are manufactured to be tiny. They don’t even need to be broken down to be consumed by zooplankton!
When traveling, hold on to your trash until you have somewhere safe to dispose of it. I know it can be annoying to carry around empty water bottles or empty packages all day so, try using a light-weight day bag when you are out on your daily adventures. Most hotels will have the proper procedures in place to dispose of your debris properly when you return.
Share your knowledge! I find that a large majority of individuals do not take the time to implement proper procedures because they are not aware of how bad the problem has become. Education is key – share what you know with your friends and family!