Most people at some point have wondered the above, and this information sometimes isn’t so accessible, without trawling the internet for hours. So here’s a brief introduction to microplastics and microbeads and how our consumer habits can help our marine species and oceans. Please click on any links for further articles or reading!
One of the biggest culprits that frequent the seas, come from the convienience items, that are made from different forms of plastics that find their way into the sea, and over time these will be broken down by sand and water erosion under the oceans and the small particles thus become micro sized- this micro plastic is so small that many marine species will eat it, as it sparkles in the ocean. This microplastic ends up in the food chain by consumption of fish, marine mammals and even humans as it accumilates as higher densities.
Of course, its not only these microplastics that pose threats to the marine life, there is also the damage that larger plastic waste can cause which can end up strangling wildlife or swallowed by large marine life; such as the below pictured Albatross chick or larger cetaceans incidents reported across Europe and the rest of the world.
Stomach contents of an Albatross chick found at Midway Island. Photo Credit: Chris Jordan
These differ from microplastics, they begin as very small plastic particles, which are found in some beauty products and toiletries, usually found in exfoliators and face wash, although the production of beauty products containing microbeads have since been banned in the UK (as of 9 Jan 2018 for production and July 2018 for sales). Sadly, microbeads still exist in circulation and through other parts of the world.
How are they bad? Well, they start their life in micro and enter our sewage systems after been washed down the sink, unfortunately our sewage filtration isn’t microscopic enough to filter these before they are leeched into the sea, where they are consumed by small marine life. Here is a handy website for all information on microbeads and how to avoid them.
*** BE CAREFUL AND CHECK THE PRODUCTS before you make a purchase to check if they contain microbeads, they will be listed in the ingredients as the below, but not limited to:
Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA)
THESE ARE ALL PLASTICS!
Check this website for a helping hand in avoiding microbead products in your country (until we are globally microbead free).
Here’s a small guide to help you see what little changes
YOU and ME can make at home to prevent continual plastic pollution.
THE TOOTHBRUSH – Next time you need to buy a toothbrush opt for a bamboo one, an easy switch and bamboo can grow incredibly fast and can supply you with a non-plastic alternative.
We need to begin our journey to eradicating the use of permanant/disposable plastic from our lives as this was a material designed for convenience in the 60’s, but its not the most suitable item that we are using for our disposables today. The bamboo toothbrush uses sustainable materials; bamboo taken from bamboo farms; it will even come wrapped in cardboard not plastic.
Although note: most companies will use nylon 4 for the bristles, which is a petroleum based plastic that biodegrades in a marine environment. So when disposing of a bamboo toothbrush, you will need to cut away the bristles (for landfill) and compost the handle. I managed to find a bamboo toothbrush that uses 67% caster oil bristles with environment toothbrush – I’m sure they’ll be improvements to this product over time and to read more about eco-toothbrushes click the link.
There are lots of stockists you can find locally or online- so make your next toothbrush a bamboo one.
~FOR THE LADIES~
TAMPONS – Each month we are hit with advertising campaigns convincing us to buy tampons and panty liners (that unknowingly to most consumers contain plastics*), these items take many years to decompose and some componants will not degrade at all, thus ending up in rivers when they are flushed down the toilet. Applicators, packaging and tampons also end up in household bins where they can find their way into oceans.
I can personally recommend making the switch to a moon cup, it won’t create waste and they are reusable for 5 years. Just think of all the tampons and panty liners you won’t be throwing away. And if you are a traveller like me, then opt for a small pack of organic biodegradable tampons to keep on hand, for when it may be impossible to use a mooncup. These tampons are compostable and contain no synthetics- good for you and the environment and usable on compost loos at festivals and eco-toilets around the globe. You can select a mooncup to suit your fancy; divacup, organicup, mooncup – the list goes on.
*This article contains great information about how the tampon is made and references to the information.
GLITTER– Glitter may look pretty and sparkly for festivals and parties, but just remember that all glitter is made up of small particles of plastic and eventually when you wash your face this will end up in the rivers and oceans.
~ON THE GO~
PLASTIC CARRIER BAGS– this is an obvious one and it has received alot of government and media attention over the past few years. Most supermarkets in the UK charge for plastic bags, but unfortunately they still exist in smaller shops and are still available to purchase.
Plastic bags are sometimes recyclable; in some areas of the UK, but the sheer amount we get through as a nation should be an indication of how important it is to curb our use. They will always find a way into the ocean and the discovery of 30 plastic bags in the stomach of a cuvier’s beaked whale was unfortunately not the only case of plastic bags harming marine life.
So to combat this issue as a collective; always carry fabric bags with you, ready to use when needed, as the less we need plastic bags, the less they will be produced.
You could always speak to your local shopkeeper if you notice they provide plastic bags to customers and suggest they sell fabric ones instead or to offer an incentive to get people to bring their old plastic bags back to the store so they are able to reuse for new customers.
This is a slow movement, but eventually we can hope the plastic bag wont exist in the near future.
ITEMS UNNECESSARILY WRAPPED IN PLASTIC – Supermarkets overuse plastic to wrap items that don’t need it, especially when using plastic film for fruit and vegetables, this type of packaging is made from polymer which in itself is harmful, this can’t be recycled and heads to landfill. The packaging is unnecessary, but if companies want to keep their produce fresher and to avoid damage in transit then they should work with packaging made from a plant based biodegradable materials, these changes will take longer to impliment and requires consumer buying power to alter supplier choices.
For the everyday shopper, its better for the environment and to begin change by only opting for fruit and vegetables that are available loose (packing using a fabric bag from home) and for dry store goods; there are shops that allow you to purchase dry foods by weight, or in bulk which will save on plastic packaging.
Heres a link to a website that will help you locate a store near you.
This also extends to onion bags and other woven plastic bags that contain vegetable for air circulation. These need to be disposed of properly too if they are purchased, and disposed of incorrectly can lead to damage to marine life; I recently saw a seal entangled in an onion produce bag, off the coast of Cardigan bay which left could cause severe damage.
Again, it comes to thinking if the packaging is necessary or choosing loose vegetables or those bagged with paper or other means. Speak to your fruit and veg supplier if you would like them to switch to paper bags or sell fabric ones.
PLASTIC LIGHTER – These disposable items are so readily available in every shop, but these items easily end up in our oceans, and can be seen in countless stomach contents of seabirds and marine species as they are consumed. A cheap alternative to this would be to switch back to matches, there are ecofriendly options out there.
Uk brands such as Bryant & May, Swan Vesta, Cook’s Matches, England’s Glory, and Scottish Bluebell are owned by Swedish Match- the largest match company- where all its UK matches are made using local, sustainable aspen at their Swedish factories. Heres a link to an interesting article.
Alternatively, there is another option; to purchase a metal lighter, they will last longer and wont be disgarded and broken up for marine consumption. There are so many broken plastic lighters littering the streets and around coastlines and beaches. A metal refillable lighter is a good option instead, but you just need to keep hold of it – thats the problem.
BEER 4 PACK HOLDERS– These have been known to get caught around sea birds and marine life, if you do buy beers with these on, remember to break up each ring before putting it in the recycling. And where possible buy beers that don’t come with 4 pack holders.
They have developed a biodegradable plastic holder for beers but realistically that wont be affordable and on the shelves anytime soon. But its interesting to see these in development so keep an eye out.
WATER BOTTLES – So many plastic bottles are used in UK and the rest of the world, these recyclable bottles hardly ever find their way to be recycled into another plastic bottle, they will be downcycled, usually into fibres for synthetic clothing, which can’t be recycled, and usually end up in rivers and oceans, so we are better to not buy in the first place.
You can purchase a refillable long life water bottle that you can refill at home or on the move. City to Sea have started a local #refill campaign to get more venues offering water fill ups. And while travelling where tap water isn’t drinkable opt for the water-to-go bottle- it filters water from undrinkable sources and this way you wont need to purchase plastic bottles ever again.
COFFEE CUPS – So many coffee shops provide coffee cups and lids, of which they are either plastic lids or cups lined with plastic. Some coffee shops are making the switch to compostable options but a good solution for the consumer is to purchase a reusable coffee cup instead- which you will be able to take along to your coffee shop, so there is no need to use the throwaway cups on offer. If you do find yourself grabing a coffee on the go with no reusable- think do I need a lid?
STRAWS– We all have been given a straw in an establishment- but how many of us tell the bar staff we don’t need it, I’m guilty of that too. The more we vocalise an issue or that something is not needed, the more companies will listen.
There are so many alternatives out there such as carrying a reusable straw, which I’ve already seen some venues using and the paper straw, which is biodegradable. There is no need to use something that is indestructable for us to use once and throw away.
simple questions to ask yourself in the shop:
Does it have plastic on it?
Do I need to buy it?
Is there an alternative on the shelf without plastic?
Can I purchase a reusable option instead?
~OUR CLOTHING~ Something you’ve probably never really thought of, myself included until recently, but yes, there is plastic in our clothing- the sad fact is alot of cheaply made clothing contains plastic or synthetic materials. These microfibres can end up polluting the oceans and rivers when it makes its way through your washing machine. A recent study by Orb (2017) showed that oysters contain microfibres.
This is where consumer consciousness comes into play, and trying our best to buy natural fibres, of course, from ethical sources. If your budget won’t allow for this kind of selective buying then possibly look into getting a fibre-catch that holds your washing as you put it into the washing machine. One example I’ve been using is the Guppyfriend. The aim is to catch all synthetic microfibers from entering the water system.
We simply need to get rid of single use plastic in our stores, and exchanging compulsary packaging for transit with plant based biodegradable packaging, if it is needed, but more often than not, a product doesn’t need the packaging at all.
Each time I buy something from an establishment I ask if it is recycleable or if it comes with compostable packaging and if I find out that it isn’t recyclable- ** I write a review/or email the company and ask them why it isn’t? I always link them to brands like vegware who use recyclable items. Slowly we can make a change. This isn’t something that will happen overnight.
Lets collectively make a difference and use our consumer buying power to change the world –
SmAlL tHiNgS tO rEmEmBeR:
look at the product before you buy and think–
Am I contributing damage to our ecosystem or am I trying to avoid it.
And at the very least:
~~I have added links to products I have purchased and tested out, as a reference, as I can only recommend products I have experienced to others, but there are many varieties out there, feel free to investigate and find the right one for you. When choosing the right product; I look at ethics of the company, what packaging they send it out with, and components/ingredients of the product (can it be composted after use/can i recycle it after use) and if possible, location the item is sent from,, as a general rule~~