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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Plastic oceans, plastic people

I was forwarded this article by a friend of mine. Despite being published in a sad yuppie men's magazine ('Stay Young, Retire Rich' blares this month's cover), the piece is actually very good and I recommend it highly.

Pretty much every piece of plastic ever made is still around, you know, and less than five percent of all plastic made is ever recycled, so the rest has to go somewhere. Ever wonder where?

Short answers: (1) into the ocean; (2) into YOU!

The plastics industry wants you to think of convenience or even beauty when you think plastic, but the truth is a lot more sinister, and all over the world huge sections of the ocean have become giant, swirling dumps for plastic, sometimes measuring the size of the state of Texas. Meanwhile, back on dry land, plastics break down into tiny particles and make their way into our bodies.

According to the article, written by Susan Casey:
At the same time, all over the globe, there are signs that plastic pollution is doing more than blighting the scenery; it is also making its way into the food chain. Some of the most obvious victims are the dead seabirds that have been washing ashore in startling numbers, their bodies packed with plastic: things like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, and colored scraps that, to a foraging bird, resemble baitfish. (One animal dissected by Dutch researchers contained 1,603 pieces of plastic.) And the birds aren’t alone. All sea creatures are threatened by floating plastic, from whales down to zooplankton. There’s a basic moral horror in seeing the pictures: a sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape; a humpback towing plastic nets that cut into its flesh and make it impossible for the animal to hunt. More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating this junk or from being ensnared in it and drowning.

Bad enough. But Moore soon learned that the big, tentacled balls of trash were only the most visible signs of the problem; others were far less obvious, and far more evil. Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton.

This statistic is grim—for marine animals, of course, but even more so for humans. The more invisible and ubiquitous the pollution, the more likely it will end up inside us. And there’s growing—and disturbing—proof that we’re ingesting plastic toxins constantly, and that even slight doses of these substances can severely disrupt gene activity. “Every one of us has this huge body burden,” Moore says. “You could take your serum to a lab now, and they’d find at least 100 industrial chemicals that weren’t around in 1950.” The fact that these toxins don’t cause violent and immediate reactions does not mean they’re benign: Scientists are just beginning to research the long-term ways in which the chemicals used to make plastic interact with our own biochemistry.
Read more here:
Our oceans are turning into plastic...are we?

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