1/3 of Fish Have Plastic Contamination

1/3 of Fish Have Plastic Contamination

It’s no secret that here at Ethical Ocean we’re inspired by marine life. That’s why we were particularly dismayed when we heard about a recent study out of Plymouth University in the UK.

A group of scientists found that one-third of fish caught off the south-west coast of England have traces of plastic contamination. The sources blamed for the contamination are products we all own and toss away - synthetic clothing fibers, polyester from bags and plastic bottles, and “microbeads” used in facial scrubs and exfoliators.

The study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin looked at the occurrence of plastic in 10 fish specifies commonly caught in the English Channel. Of the 504 fish examined, more than one-third were found to contain small pieces of plastic less than 1mm in size, what scientists are calling “microbeads.”

“We have previously shown that on shorelines worldwide and on the seabed and in the watercolumn around the UK, these tiny fragments of plastics are widespread,” said Dr. Richard Thompson of Plymouth University. This study reveals something new though: These fragments are being ingested by fish.

“Laboratory studies on mussels have shown that some organisms can retain plastic after ingestion, hence microplastic debris could also accumulate in natural populations.” The consequences for fish are quite significant - ingested plastic can cause blockages in their digestive systems and give fish a false sense of being full. And because chemicals can “latch on” to the plastic fragments, they could also make it easier for pollutants in surrounding waters to find their way into the food chain.

The majority of the plastic was fibers of rayon, a synthetic fiber used in clothing and sanitary products. Other plastics included those from broken down items like plastic bags and bottles.

Thompson calmed people’s immediate fears, stating that “there is no threat to human health as the plastic was found in the fish gut which we do not eat.”

Well I guess that’s a silver lining. But reality is we should care regardless of whether it’s harming us directly.

It’s time that we start looking at the consequences of our throw-away culture.

Industry has a role to play. Some major companies are responding to marine conservationists’ campaigns, such as Unilever who has announced that it is phasing-out microbeads from its facescrubs and soaps by 2015. Additionally, those companies making strides to produce products that are reusable and recyclable will help contribute to less waste ending up in our waterways.

But all that said, the solution needs to lie with individuals too. It’s easy to blame big companies for producing all these products, but ultimately we’re the ones buying them and then disposing of them improperly. It’s time we start taking individual responsibility for the situation we’re creating.

It likely means avoiding products with microbeads, buying few garments made of synthetic materials, and when we do buy those garments and are finished with them, disposing of them properly. And water bottles and plastic bags, well really the solution is pretty simple: let’s just stop using them. Industry has a role, but ultimately they follow demand. When we stop demanding these plastics, fewer will be produced. And those that are, well let’s dispose of them responsibly.

February 1, 2013