I attended an online round table discussion on plastic ocean pollution a few days ago and the panel of experts were amazing. It was hosted by an internet radio show KQED SCIENCE and really expanded my awareness on the toll plastic pollution is having with our oceans. Two points were a surprise to me and since they can be controlled through education and consumer dollars – I’ve expanded the topics below. If you’d like to access a full link to the discussion & panel, there is a full recording on the Surfrider Foundation blog.
We know many of the causes of plastic ocean pollution are not good for your health, so if the topic of ocean pollution seems too broad – let’s dial it back and think of it starting in our washing machines or bathroom sink and the problem will seem closer to home. My thanks to Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free for the invite and your great advice during the discussion!
Microfiber Pollution via Your Washing Machine
A question was asked of Sea Captain Charles Moore about pollution from washing polyester clothing in household washing machines. I’ve always voiced my concern over the amount of plastic on clothing that is washed and heated in dryers, so my ears perked up at this conversation. And Captain Moore would know about plastic pollution because in 1997 he discovered an area in the mid-Pacific Ocean the size of Texas that became dubbed “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. He agreed with the study that polyester sediments are not able to be filtered through washing machines and these microfibers are being consumed by marine life. The life cycle of PET bottles being turned into fleece clothing might not have the ‘green’ story we want. The very small particles are called microplastic and they are no larger than the head of a pin. Until microplastic can be removed from sewage we need to re-think what is going into our washing machines. We avoid polyester in my house because we have eczema skin issues which is aggravated by this synthetic fabric, but because of this new discovery I will really think twice before dropping my microfiber cloths into the washing machine. Panelist Beth Terry recommends using natural fibers for clothing and I agree. 100% cotton, or organic when possible is such a better alternative against skin than polyesters that will leach “more than 1,900 fibers per wash into waste water.” *Sources and sinks. Environmental Science & Technology doi:10.1021/es201811s.*
Microbeads in Facial Scrub
It was Bill Hickman, Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics Campaign Coordinator that was talking about removing every day uses of single use plastic and ways to start at home that mentioned a sneaky culprit that might enter the waterways via a facial cleanser marked as natural *yuck*. Because micro beads are a huge source of plastic pollution I wanted to mention this source and the thought of rubbing plastic on your face to ‘clean’ it is really disgusting. The ingredient in this facial cleaner containing plastic beads is Polyethylene. Here is an image from the Rise Above Plastic fan page that is more descriptive on this topic, but since all of the panelists talked about the problem of microplastic (plastic that is less than 5 millimeters in size), you can see how this size of plastic entering the ocean is going to have huge impact on sea life. Captain Moore mentioned that ocean plastic pollution is killing more animals than climate change – that really surprised me but also renewed my energy with trying to further reduce my own amount of plastic waste since consumer dollars are such a huge way to help. Think of every source of single use plastic in your lives. If you can make this one change – this would be the highest impact and improvement for your personal waste and the environment!
Surfrider Foundation has published some amazing visuals to aid with ocean plastic pollution. They also have a great article with more ways you can help with plastic pollution here. I see how quickly this images travel around Facebook when they are published – I hope they make more! Here are two images they’ve created that have the highest impact to inspire change – photo credits to Surfrider: