Plastic discards next to be banned
06 Sep 2016
Several nations have already pledged to ban the use of microbeads. © Fred Dott / Greenpeace
Seas have long been used as convenient places in which to dump all sorts of rubbish and discard items which are no longer needed – out of sight out of mind seems to be the guiding rule.
However, the oceans are home to the great majority of the fish and shellfish caught for human consumption, so what goes into the sea can return to harm us.
In fact, a major study commissioned by Greenpeace has revealed that plastic particles are found in a third of fish caught off the coast of Britain. It found widespread contamination of cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish by plastic microbeads used in shower gels, toothpastes and beauty products.
Plastic fragments and residues were also detected in 83% of UK-caught scampi or langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus), as well as in tuna, mullet, mussels and oysters. It has been reported that a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.
While this may be seen as an unfortunate environmental concern, there can be an adverse affect on human health. According to pop star Dougie Poynter, an unlikely campaigner for banning the use of plastic microbeads, fish eating them can get infected with toxins known to cause all different types of diseases.
“These include problems with reproductive systems [in fish] and diabetes [in humans who eat the infected fish],” he said in a recent interview. “It [plastic] goes up the food chain and comes back to us.
“Plastic production has surged from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014. That’s a 2,000 per cent increase. Now, one in every four fish contains plastic which has these toxins in. We are literally eating our own trash.”
Recent research by Australia’s RMIT University and China’s Hainan University showed that up to 12.5% of the chemical pollutants on microbeads passed into the fish that eat them.
The pollutants range from pesticides like DDT to phthalates and fire retardants. Louise Edge of Greenpeace said: “Once in the ocean, microplastics can both attract and leach out toxic chemicals and be consumed by marine life. In some cases, juvenile fish have even been shown to prefer plastic to their natural food source.”
Several nations, including the USA, have already pledged to ban the use of microbeads, trillions of which are being washed into the sewers and seas every year. The UK government has announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017 and Cosmetics Europe, which represents more than 4,000 personal care product manufacturers, has recommended its members phase them out by 2020.
All this may seem far removed from the fish processing industry, although those who work in that industry use products containing plastic microbeads. However, it is symptomatic of the use, not to say overuse, of plastics in the packaging of seafood products.
As more and more seafood is sold ready to heat, or ready to eat, it is inevitably contained in plastic trays often overwrapped with plastic film and carried in a plastic bag. What happens to this packaging is a matter of great concern to the environment.
It may be biodegradable, or recyclable, or it may just end up in the ocean.