Plastics are lightweight, durable materials that we use everyday but often do not consider the environmental impact of. They can remain in the environment for centuries, and are now considered one of the greatest threats facing marine ecosystems today. It has been projected that if waste management does not improve, our oceans will contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025! So what types of plastics are out there, and how do they impact our seas?
Macroplastics are relatively large processed materials such as plastic bags, bottles, and straws.
Environmental impacts of macroplastics
Macroplastics are not only unsightly, but are dangerous to animals who ingest them. We have all seen the photos of seabirds with bellies full of plastic. Why does this happen? Research has shown that algae covers ocean plastics over time and releases a chemical called DMS (Dimethyl Sulphide) when eaten by krill. As many birds search for prey using their sense of smell, DMS rich water signals dinner time. Seabirds therefore scoop up whatever is within the area, ingesting not only krill but macroplastics! Consuming macroplastics can cause internal blockages in many animals including seabirds, and can be fatal.
Microplastics are less than 5mm in length (smaller than a sesame seed) and can be classified as primary or secondary. Secondary microplastics occur when fragments break away from larger macroplastics, while primary microplastics are purposefully manufactured. Primary microplastics include:
-Microbeads which are used in many toiletries such as cleansers and toothpastes.
–Abrasives which strip rust and paint from buildings and vehicles.
–Fibres from synthetic fabrics.
Environmental impacts of Microplastics
It’s estimated that on average 63,320 microplastic particles currently float on top each square kilometre of the ocean. This poses a huge threat to our marine friends. Suspended microplastics are mistaken for food by organisms at the bottom of the food-chain, who are then eaten by predators, passing the ingested microplastics up the chain. Microplastics are now so widespread throughout the chain that they have been found in beer, salt, and seafood!
Microplastic consumption reduces the level of nutrients animals would usually get from their natural source of food, leading to lower energy levels. Some microplastics also absorb toxic chemicals from pollutants in the surrounding water. This can alter animal hormone levels and behaviour if ingested, reducing reproduction rates.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
In 1997 The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered between Hawaii and California. This floating island of Macroplastics and Microplastics is three times the size of France and is estimated to weigh around 80,000 tonnes. That’s the same weight as 500 jumbo jets! The Garbage Patch creates a cloudy soup which blocks sunlight into the ocean. This stops light from reaching key producers such as algae and plankton, threatening the marine food web.
Its not all bad news though! Green businesses are creating innovative products to reduce unnecessary plastic consumption. This includes The Cheeky Panda team, who are working towards removing all plastic from our packaging by the end of 2020. Our entire range is having a complete wardrobe makeover, starting with our newly released cardboard packaged pocket tissues. #thefutureischeeky
If you want more tips on how to reduce your plastic consumption, check out our blog on going plastic free in your bathroom!