Plastic Pollution
January 31 2012

Plastic In The Food Chain

by Bill Hickman

Remember the plastic bag sushi ad we posted last week?  While it's a bit extreme, it does show the underlying truth that the ocean is turning into a plastic soup and plastic is entering the food chain through the fish we eat.  While most people are concerned with larger types of plastic that often break into small pieces over time, there's a relatively new player: microplastics.

Microplastic particles are so minuscule they don't easily get captured at wastewater-treatment plants and may end up in waterways and the ocean. Many cosmetics, such as facial scrubs, use microplastics.  It's not easy to find which products contain microplastics, but start by searching a product's ingredients list for "polyethylene," one main form of plastic microbeads. The federal government's Household Products Database lists more than 90 personal-care products containing polyethylene, including some toothpaste and shampoos.

Another form of microplastic pollution comes from washing synthetic fibers according to recent research:  Microscopic fragments of acrylic, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyamide, and polyester have been discovered in increasing quantities across the northeast Atlantic, as well as on beaches in Britain, Singapore, and India.  A chemical analysis revealed that nearly 80 percent of the filaments comprised polyester or acrylic, which are common in synthetic textiles.  A single garment can produce over 1,900 near-invisible fibers with each wash according to the study. Ingested microplastics can persist in cells for months, moving up the food chain to animals and people who eat fish. The scientific study from the journal Environmental Science and Technology was released last year and BBC News did a great article on it this past weekend.

That fleece made from recycled plastic bottles does not seem as eco-friendly amymore, now does it?