New research shows that there is yet another down-side to the excessive use of plastics and the accumulation of said plastics in the environment: micro-pollution. Much of our plastic bottles, plastic bags, and other plastic waste eventually finds its way into the oceans, and as these plastics break down from exposure to sun, rain, and other environmental elements, it has been discovered that they begin to leach toxic chemicals into the water. Previously, the primary concerns over plastics in our waterways was the choking hazard that they pose to fish and other wildlife mistaking the plastic for food, and the potential for animals to get caught up in floating bits of plastic. It is now known that degrading plastics can release a range of chemicals into the marine environment with untold detrimental effects on marine life (hence the term micro-pollution, a contamination occurring on a molecular level). These chemicals have the potential for a much more widespread effect on the environment than floating bits of plastic. One of the chemicals discovered, bisphenol-A, has been shown to disrupt the hormonal systems of animals. Additionally, degrading Styrofoam releases large amounts of a styrene monomer known for causing cancer.
While this type of pollution is largely occurring out of sight, in the oceans, it is a very real concern. In the Pacific alone, there is an area estimated to be twice the size of Texas permanently covered with floating debris. Much of the plastics have been broken-down to microscopic levels and as of yet, no viable solution has been found to successfully collect this debris. Due to the persistent nature of plastics, the amount of chemicals being released into the oceans will increase exponentially in coming years as more plastics end up in the oceans and the plastic currently in the ocean further breaks down.
Things you can do (the old standards):
- Reduce, opt for products with less packaging or buy in bulk, bring your own shopping bags, assess whether what you really need is actually something you REALLY need.
- Reuse, whenever possible use things again or find new uses for them, try to borrow/lend things you don’t use very often.
- Recycle, the more things get re-made into something else, the less that ends up in landfills or our oceans.
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