Plastic pollution is in our water systems, the air we breath, in our soil, in the water we drink, and in the food we eat. Every minute of every day the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of plastic finds its way in to our oceans. We find evidence of this on every walk on Cornwall’s beaches and it’s a scenario that is played out on every beach all around the World.
Single use plastic detritus washes up onto our beaches comprising of every single use plastic item, familiar to us all. Bottle tops and seals, disposable lighters, cotton bud sticks, shot gun cartridges, fishing line and net, bottles, beads, spacers, you name it and we find it on our beaches. Not sporadically once in a while… It is omnipresent and pervasive. Often after a big storm it’s as if the ocean has vomited all the disposable plastic pollution right back at us.
These are the macro pieces. The big pieces, larger than 5mm. On Midway Island in the Pacific, they are eaten by Albatros and fed to baby chicks, unknowingly killing their babies with undigestible pieces of plastic. Adult birds will often be found dead with their stomaches full of bottle tops and lighters. This isn’t unique to Midway, seagulls off Cornwall have been seen on fishing boats regurgitating plastic. Whales found dead, stomaches full of plastic bags, turtles and seals tangled up in fishing gear, cutting into their skin.
Then there are the little pieces the Microplastics. Large pieces of plastic are broken down by UV rays and the power of the ocean, this plastic will never disappear only getting smaller and smaller until it’s so small it’s not visible to the human eye.
Microplastics are made up of secondary pieces smaller than 5mm which are broken down from larger pieces and primary microplastics, pieces smaller than 5mm that started life that size, such as Nurdles (the raw material for making plastic) biobeads, (a type of biobedia used in water treatment works) microbeads (tiny pieces of plastic added to cosmetics, skincare and household cleaning products) and microfibres which are tiny plastic fibres shed from your washing machine cycle Microfibres. According to Hubub over 1/3 of all microplastic pollution in our oceans comes from washing textiles.
Microfibres are so tiny they are eaten by plankton. Plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. We can see from the evidence in front of us the effect plastic pollution is having on marine life, and scientists are looking into the effects it may be having on human health.