I’m a bit ashamed. I was doing something without realizing its full magnitude, so I’ll share my mistake.
The short of it: Despite the fact I was helping collect samples for research in the ocean, I was woefully unaware of what micro-plastics actually are. We all need to watch this video of Nat Geo Explorer, Gregg Treinish, informing us about the quickly developing micro-plastics situation. And be SURE not to purchase anything with “micro-beads”, as I explain below.
(Direct link to the video, in case doesn’t load above.)
The long of it: during the first season of Green Coconut Run, in partnership with ASC (AdventureScience.org), we’ve been collecting samples for micro-plastics. ASC is crowd-sourcing the data so that scientists can study this emerging problem quickly and affordably; our role is to encourage other cruising sailors to participate.
After 25+ samples along 4 countries in Central America, our voyage was even written up in Nat Geo. But my understanding of what I was collecting was seriously flawed! In my blog post I said micro-plastics were “miniature pieces of plastic… after decades of breakdown” in the ocean. I was WRONG!
I finally watched Gregg’s video today (after getting back to the US last week, I’m catching up on all the Youtube and high-bandwidth internet I missed the last year of travel!).
I learned that many of our face washes, fleece jackets, and synthetic miracle clothes have plastic “micro-beads”. Even toothpaste, yes toothpaste! After spreading them in our mouths, bodies, and laundry machines, the micro-plastics flow down the water pipes of our houses, and if untreated, go directly into the ocean.
These aren’t degraded micro bits of the plastic bags and toys that are clogging the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is horrendous in itself. These are micro-beads, already pre-fabricated in their terrible, tiny size, entering the food chain through fish we consume, and whose effects on our bodies and the ecosystems are still unknown.
Now I know better. Please put “micro-beads” in your DO NOT BUY list.
And sailors out there: join ASC’s global campaign to help scientists understand the extent and effects of micro-plastics. Participate in “crowd-sourcing adventure science” !
Email us or email@example.com for more information.
2 thoughts on “Be SURE to watch this! about Micro-plastics.”
Here’s a clarification from ASC about the micro-plastics if you’re interested in more detail. The bottom line is that micro-beads in body products are worth targeting (check out his link), but the research is showing that micro-fibers and broken down plastics are the main culprits in the water column.
Thanks for reaching out, and for passing along the blog post!
Microbeads are absolutely a huge piece of the microplastics issue, and we absolutely encourage everyone to avoid purchasing them. Here’s some more information on microbeads and how to avoid them: http://www.adventurescience.org/field-notes/whats-in-your-face-wash.
To clarify, microplastics from synthetic clothing and fleece jackets aren’t purpose-made microbeads—they’re microfibers that are released into the environment when they weather from the original source. The same goes for disposable consumer plastics, like bags and bottles: Since they never biodegrade, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually becoming microplastics.
Microbeads are a great place to focus effort, as we can clearly see and directly stop their introduction into waterways. That said, nearly 90% of the plastic pieces counted from our 1200 samples are fibrous/filamentous, suggesting that, at least in the water column, microbeads are not the primary pollution source (there is some research that indicates that they sink, so sediment samples could yield different results).
Thank you again for spreading the word about microplastics, and for being a part of the ASC family!
ASC Partnerships Coordinator
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