The Plastics In Us
With the increasing worry that Artificial Intelligence or Robots taking over or that Climate Change may create more havoc than we are ready for perhaps we might be overlooking something just as sinister: The plastics around us and increasingly inside of us.
What makes this problem more insidious is that we are careless contributors to it each time we release a party balloon into the air, brush our teeth, buy a fleece jacket, leave plastic waste on the beach, wash our clothes – or carelessly toss a plastic bottle. They all contribute to a significant planetary-scale problem.
90% of all of water samples recently taken from around the world contained microplastics. Of those, 89% were tiny fibres and 11% plastic fragments. There are now 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the world’s oceans, and a plastic slurry called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (twice the size of France) now floats in the Pacific out of site of those who contribute most to it. Just eating shellfish or whole fish, drinking water (even the bottled stuff) or breathing the strands released into the air by your clothes may be filling you – and the creatures on whom we depend – with plastic residues. One in 3 shellfish; 1 in 4 fin fish and 67% of all species tested from fish markets in California had microfibre in them.
Just one fleece jacket could shed up to 250,000 fibre pieces per garment per wash. Many fibres don’t get filtered out by waste treatment plants could re-emerge in drinking water or foods and get inside our guts – and lungs – and our other organs and lodge there. Is that bad? Some microplastics are known to harbour pesticides, heavy metals and bacteria that could also instigate disease. Even if we are unsure what the long term affects of micro-plastics will be on humans, we already know that plankton, seals, turtles, whales, birds and countless other creatures are being impacted and many choked, starved or killed in the process. Some ocean birds may even face extinction as a result of their stomachs being filled with plastics mistaken for food and fill their stomachs – and the chicks they feed.
What we can see is just the beginning, as up to 70% of released plastics don’t float and are settling to the bottom of the oceans and some have recently been discovered in ice sheets in the polar regions.
We need to do a lot of things to turn things around as this video points out. Some are obvious and can be done right now with simple decisions we make daily in our personal or professional lives. Other solutions will take a lot more dedicated resources, research and entrepreneurial spirit to activate – like mining ocean plastics. Still others will require sharpened business ethics around material choices, capturing renegade fibres prior to re-entry into the environment, clearer consumer education, better waste handling, ocean plastics recovery and ultimately pro-active government intervention.
Australia in particular is highly dependent on the health of our oceans and at iAccelerate we are on the lookout to help startups who see this as a challenge to fix things that are vital for our health and for our economy.
Until significant progress is made – as you bin yet another plastic cup, grab another plastic bag at the checkout or as you watch your micro-bead infused toothpaste or skin cleanser residue flow down the drain – perhaps consider whether you are ever actually bidding these “goodbye” or, more likely, “until we meet again”?
An excellent resource used for this article and for further reading: