Ocean Conservation: Microplastics in the Food Chain

For years we’ve listened to environmentalists and conservationists talk about the need to reduce plastic waste. This problem does not seem to be going away as quickly as it should. Not only do new plastic waste deposits still make it into the ecosystem, but because plastic is not biodegradable, it will take decades to rehabilitate the ocean. In recent years, concern has risen about the effect plastic waste could have on human health. This concern comes with research efforts into the presence and life cycle of plastic in the ecosystem. More specifically, microplastic.
The article Importance of Ocean Conservation highlights that the ocean feeds the world, providing 50% of fish for human consumption, with aquaculture as the world’s fastest growing food industry.
While this is a positive contribution, it also means we consume from the same source. Fish ingest the plastic, and humans ingest the fish. So, as we dispose of plastic bottles and bags irresponsibly, we compromise food quality, ultimately introducing toxins into our bodies. Food for thought?
Primary microplastics on the other hand, do not wait to be broken down over time as secondary microplastics do. They are manufactured intentionally small, as microbeads. Found in cosmetic products such as body and facial scrubs, toothpaste, and, packaging, microplastics are seemingly unavoidable. Their disposal is difficult to control. Microbeads in toothpaste and body scrubs for example, are disposed of directly into the water system, and are not always successfully filtered out of the water cycle or household water system.
Toxins added to plastic during manufacturing, amplify the health concern which comes with the presence of microplastics in the food chain. Unfortunately, there is not enough research to inform whether these toxins contain harmful constituents, or what harm microplastics might inflict on the human body. As of March 2018, a research project was to be launched for this purpose by the World Health Organisation. Absence of such research should however not hinder a proactive approach from the global community. Some fishing companies are as concerned as the WHO and are supporting research efforts as it affects their product quality and economic activities. The possibility of health effects on humans, and the effects microplastics are evidenced to have on sea life, are cause enough for global concern and action.

What are the solutions?

The ideal solution would be to completely do away with secondary and primary microplastic waste by replacing plastic with environmentally friendly packaging materials, and product ingredients. Take WAVE for example. A range of polymer products made from organic material, instantly replacing harmful plastic bags. Replacement would be a long-term solution, and it will take time, and time we do not have. England, and some American states, have already taken a step by banning the use of microbeads in selected products. The effects waste has on ocean life, the closed economy, and climate, require immediate action.
Impact entrepreneurship helps in closing the existing gap. Solutions from green businesses dedicated to a cleaner environment for future generations are helping to clean up the waste which already has, and continues to make it into the ecosystem.
Products such as the Seabin V5 from Seabin Project are a viable innovation. Seabin V5 is built with the capability of scooping up microplastics as tiny as 2mm from the ocean, along with larger floating debris which would otherwise disintegrate into secondary microplastics when left in the ocean. It is suitable for Yatch Clubs, Ports, Marinas and other calm water bodies.
Lovelyn Mashave is a Zimbabwean content creator who enjoys expressing herself through writing. When she’s not writing, she’s reading an inspirational book (preferably with an accurate dose of funny). She’s an unapologetic dream chaser (currently learning French in France), who supports others in chasing their own. As a Marketer and International Business Manager she has worked with and for non-profit, private, and public service organisations; managing brands, creating communication portfolios, heading and editing publications. As an educator, she has worked with students in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in Thailand. As a traveller, she blogs at www.beyondthebirthplace.com.

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