Microplastics - A Macro Problem

By SCA Community Engagement Fellow Hayden Sloan

As you may know, plastic degrades (breaks down into pieces), but it doesn’t biodegrade (break down through natural decomposition). This becomes a problem over time, as all of the plastic pieces we’ve generated over the last seven decades are steadily turning the sea into a gloopy plastic chowder.

Plastic pieces come from all over the place: the sources you’d imagine such as bags, bottles, and plastic utensils, but also face washes, children’s toys, nylon ropes, and even your regular load of laundry can release millions of tiny plastic microfibers into the water system (did you know that polyester is a plastic?).

Those small pieces of plastic become increasingly toxic by absorbing other contaminants from municipal and agricultural runoff. Marine creatures mistake large and small pieces for food, which passes plastics up the food chain to more unfortunate animals until it reaches us.

And don’t think you’re safe by just avoiding seafood. The food chain is more complex than “small fish to bigger fish to human.” It includes sea birds, mollusks, marine mammals, and the variety of animals that prey along coasts. The food chain is becoming so permeated with plastics, some pollution has likely already made its way to your dinner plate.

Knowing that makes you want to join the fight against plastic pollution, doesn’t it? Here are 10 things you can do to help protect earth against plastic pollution:

TEN ACTION ITEMS for stopping microplastic pollution

  • Avoid products with known microplastics like microbeads in face washes and toothpastes.
  • Stop using single-use plastics like straws, plastic shopping bags, and plastic drink cups. Think reusable!
  • Cut out plastic in your consumption choices wherever you can. One easy switch is to buy soda in aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles. Start with one change at a time to make them stick.
  • If you own a business, choose sustainable packaging.
  • Write a letter asking your preferred companies to use sustainable packaging. You can also write to your city to advocate for a plastic bag ban. Try a form letter to help you get started.
  • Strategically do your laundry. Try to make your synthetic clothes last as long as possible between washes to avoid microfiber pollution. Air them out in the sun or dust with baking soda to help absorb smells.
  • Vote for legislation that puts bans or taxes on plastics.
  • Join protests against plastic factory pollution.
  • Recycle. Start recycling in your community; support recycling in your community; tell your recycling center how much you appreciate their work. Take a tour of your local recycling facility to learn how they work and what materials they do and don’t accept.
  • Spread the word. Your friends, family, students, and co-workers joining our efforts will have an even greater impact! For some kid-friendly ocean pollution education, check out Nat Geo Kids.

Support the SCA as we support interns doing field research on this very issue. In the summer of 2017, two SCA interns joined the Escambia County Marine Resources Division to collect, analyze, and find solutions to the problem of marine debris. Want to get involved yourself? Find similar ways to serve here.