The visual of a floating plastic entity the size of Texas captured people’s attention – there was the enormity factor and then the ensuing revulsion. But if the problem was bad then, it’s much worse now.
In 1999 Moore estimated plastic outweighed plankton by six to one in the GPGP; by 2014 he found 100 times more plastic than plankton. It’s now predicted that if we don’t drastically curb runaway plastic rubbish it’ll outweigh fish in our ocean within 30 years.
We’re not actually dealing with a semi-solid floating rubbish continent either. What’s out there is more of a plastic smog situation, because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it photo degrades in the presence of sunlight and fragments into smaller and smaller pieces. Churning ocean currents enhance the fragmentation process.
The 5 Gyres Institute published the first global estimate of how pervasive the plastic smog problem had become in 2014. It estimated microplastics (the ones smaller than a grain of rice) floating in the upper surface of the ocean numbered 5.25 trillion pieces. This number was a lot smaller than researchers anticipated. Where was the rest? Ingested by marine animals mistaking it for food.
So yes, our plastic is now in our food chain. And thanks to a recent report we know plastic microfibres are also in our tap water – 83 per cent of water sampled the world over contains plastic – the US and Beirut, Lebanon topped the charts with 94 per cent of tap water contaminated with microfibers. On the heels of this came the news that bottled water could have twice as much plastic as tap. Microfibres are literally raining down on Paris, somewhere between three to ten tonnes every year. We are breathing in these invisible plastic microfibres.
Could the headlines get any worse? Yes. Just as scientists warn we’re at a tipping point with plastic detritus set to become a permanent blight on our planet, industry is gearing up to increase production by 40 per cent per cent in the next decade. This ramp up has marine biologists and conservation experts on high alert – a total ‘code red’.
However, many westerners still don’t know the ugly truth behind our single-use culture. Religiously recycling our convenience-enabling plastic, we imagine it’s a “mischief managed” type scenario. But with China no longer taking half the world’s “foreign garbage”, recycling has been exposed as being as much a fiction as Harry Potter himself. What we were doing was outsourcing the problem.
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