Researchers at the Ellen Macarthur Foundation have found that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean (by weight), than fish (Source: The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics). This could be up to an astonishing 900 million tonnes of plastic.
Plastic has become one of the world’s most popular materials, combining amazing
functionality and very low production costs. Over the last 50 years, its use has increased 50 times and is set to double again within 20 years. The most disappointing fact is that over a quarter of all plastic is used for packaging, which is almost exclusively designed to be single use.
But what about recycling? On average, only about 14% of plastic packaging is actually collected for recycling. The reuse rate is terrible compared to other materials (58% of paper and up to 90% of iron and steel gets recycled). The rest ends up as landfill, or the environment as garbage.
If the plastic makes it way into the oceans, a very disturbing thing has started to happen. According to an article in the journal Science, juvenile fish actually prefer to eat plastic as opposed to the plankton they normally eat.
One of the biggest problems for the fish is increased mortality rates. One particular trial placed perch in a tank with a pike. The perch exposed to microplastic were eaten four times more quickly than perch that had not been eating plastic.
All the plastic-fed fish had been killed within 48 hours.
Researcher Oona Lpnnstedt stresses this point, “If early life-history stages of other species are similarly affected by microplastics, and this translates to increased mortality rates, the effects on aquatic ecosystems could be profound,”.
Unfortunately, at the moment the effect on humans is not well understood, “We don’t know the effects,” says Chelsea Rochman, Smith Fellow in Conservation Biology at the University of California Davis and lead author of the 2015 study on microplastic contamination in fish.
“Health advisories for seafood consumption already exist for established contaminants such as dioxins, PCB’s and mercury,” points out Halden, but “Currently there are no similar regulations for plastics and plastic-borne pollutants, as the science is still young.”
However, the evidence for fish is clear. The more plastic we dump into the oceans, the less fish there will be and also the unhealthier they will be.
Take a look at One Brown Planet’s, “52 Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint“, for ways to help and don’t forget to share. Together we can find a solution!
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