Sex, Death and Plastic
One of Toothfish’s many incarnations was working as a wage paying stiff at a government department recently when lunch was served to a bunch of visiting executives. One of the items on the catered menu was sushi. Next to it were a bunch of little plastic bottles filled with soy sauce and shaped like fish. Toothfish had never seen these before but has since found out that quite a few sushi outlets also use these containers. Sadly Toothfish knew it was going to find some of these nasty little things on the beach and sure enough a few weeks later it did – just waiting for some bird or fish to eat them when they washed back out to sea.
Feel free to write to Mr Hannon Chen at Guangzhou Yilin Foodstuff Co.Ltd. in China - and give them a piece of your mind. We don't want or need little plastic individual sauce containers shaped like fish thank you!
Another annoying plastic that Toothfish keeps finding on the beach are nurdles These small plastic pellets, typically under five millimetres in diameter, are a major component of marine debris. They are used as the raw material in plastics manufacturing and get into the sea when containers spill off ships and wharves or the pellets themselves are washed down the drain and into ocean. You can find them in their millions along many of the world’s coastlines.
These little things look like fish eggs and like the fish shaped bottles they are also likely to be eaten by marine life.
In the past when fishermen dumped their trash overboard or lost a net, it consisted of natural materials such as metal, cloth or paper that would either sink to the bottom and/or break down quickly. But plastic remains floating on the surface which is where many marine animals find their food. Plastic is durable and strong and may float around for many years getting smaller and smaller until eventually it ends up getting eaten by something.
The production of plastic uses a lot of fossil fuels. Most estimates put the figure at around eight percent of the world’s oil production, four percent of which is actually used in energy consumption to make the plastic. It takes roughly one quarter of a litre of oil to produce a one litre water bottle.
We use some of this plastic to make sensible things like containers, clothing, tools and medical equipment but we also make an awful lot of crap. Things like toy guns for our children to play with and cheap plastic gee-gaws like this miniature water bottle being given away in a recent promotion by Countdown Supermarket.
The oceans and beaches of the world are becoming saturated in this stuff. No-one is quite sure how much plastic enters the ocean every year – one estimate by Greenpeace is around 10 million tons a year - with roughly twenty percent dumped or spilled from ships and platforms and the rest coming from land based sources.
Any animal that eats the plastic will be consuming highly toxic pollutants, the plastic acts like a chemical sponge that can concentrate many of the most damaging pollutants found in the world's oceans. And humans are not immune from the effects of ingesting these persistent organic pollutants(POP's) either. They have been linked to numerous detrimental health conditions including:
- Cancer (Wang et al. 2009,WWF 1999, Ociepa-Zawal et al. 2010, Purdue et al. 2009, McGlynn et al. 2008)
- Diabetes (Ruzzin et al. 2010, Lee 2008, Carpenter 2008)
- Low sperm count (WWF 1999)
- Altered immune systems (WWF 1999, Hertz-Picciotto 2008)
- Genital defects (WWF 1999)
- Endocrine disruptors (Cao et al. 2008, Han et al. 2010, Goncharov et al. 2009, Tan et al. 2009)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (Lee et al. 2007)
- Endometriosis (Porpora et al. 2009)
- Low birth weights (Murphy et al., 2010
- as well as a number of developmental and mental health problems
Many of the world's environmental problems seem too big for individuals to have much impact but we can all help to prevent plastics going into the ocean.
What can I do?
1)Use less plastics.
We don't need to use little plastic bottles full of soy sauce or buy tasteless unnecessary plastic toys for our children.
Look for alternative materials or avoid excessive packaging when deciding on purchases. Use paper bags, milk and juice in cardboard or bottles and cloth nappies where possible.
When you go shopping you can take your own own fabric bags instead of using the store's plastic ones. Plastic shopping bags can clog digestive tracts when consumed by fish, bird and marine mammals and cause starvation A 1994 study of the seabed using trawl nets in the North-Western Mediterranean around the coasts of Spain, France and Italy reported mean concentrations of debris of 1,935 items per square kilometre. Plastic debris accounted for 77%, of which 93% was plastic bags.
If you do use a plastic bag make sure you tie a knot or two in it before you put it in the rubbish bin (or preferably the recycling bin). That way it is far less likely to turn into a balloon and get blown out to sea next time the wind blows.
2) Recycle your plastics.
Many places offer pick-up recycling programs for #1 and #2 plastics. Other forms of plastic may be accepted by a local recycling business. If your community doesn't have a recycling program, contact your city or town hall to request one. Below we see Toothfish putting a plastic drink bottle into a recycling bin provided by the local council.
3) Beach Clean-ups
The most effective method right now for solving the plastic problem is beach cleaning. Coastal cleanups gather volunteers to collect rubbish that has washed up on the beach from sea or land based sources and remove it before it enters the water column again. Beach clean-ups don't need to be a drag. They can be a lot of fun. Or you can just take a bag next time you go to the beach and fill it up with any rubbish you find before you go home. Toothfish often finds interesting things picking up plastic on the beach!
- References and links to other relevant sites -
Roger Grauwmeijer - 1/4
Chris Jordan - 3
Rosie Whinray - 5
Toothfish - the rest