Scientists investigating the impact of plastic

Scientists investigating the impact of plastic

Scientists investigating the impact of plastic ‘hidden’ in the seas – Biologists discuss the effect of the entry of toxic substances into the food chain of fish and birds… A research team made a documentary last year about marine life.  The team found plastic trash that had traveled thousands of miles across the ocean to come to a stop on the other side of the planet, on a remote island northwest of Hawaii.

A group of filmmakers and biologists found some turtles nested in the middle of plastic bottles, lighters and toys. And albatross chicks were found dead or dying because their parents had fed them plastic.

Some of the young die when sharp objects pierce their bodies, others by starvation, with their stomachs full of plastic that they cannot digest.

We have known for some time that plastic is a threat to albatrosses, but how dangerous is the plastic waste to other species – including man?

Part of the plastic found in our oceans was thrown into the sea illegally. Another portion is junk from fishing, but most comes from poorly managed landfills and industrial wastelands.

The garbage floating in the oceans is moved by large systems of rotating ocean currents, such as large eddies, driven by the rotation of the earth and winds.

The Hawaiian archipelago is situated in the middle of one such system, known as the North Pacific Gyre – one of five interconnected systems of ocean currents.

Each of these systems form a spiral, rotating from a central point, causing debris to move to the inside.

These spirals can also eject material towards the Arctic and Antarctic continents, spreading the plastic around the planet.

The plastic is made to last, so it degrades very slowly in the seas, breaking into smaller and smaller fragments. These tiny pieces of plastic are known as microplastic.

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Hormonal changes

To demonstrate what happens to the plastic that degrades in the ocean, marine pollution expert, Simon Boxall, of the British National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, Great Britain, on the south coast of Great Britain, filtered 400 tons of sea water and took debris in his laboratory for analysis.

The naked eye could see mud, twigs and feathers. But observed under a microscope, the sample contained small particles of plastic.

There were pieces of plastic ropes, bags and colored fragments, some with a pointed shape. Some of the particles were less than a millimeter thick, the same size of organisms present in the sample – phytoplankton organisms (plants) and zooplankton (animal organisms).

“There has been much research in the United States to investigate how plastic enters the food chain,” says Boxall. “Certainly it was shown that it enters the bivalve types, mollusks and oysters on the seabed, and has an effect on them.”

“They accumulate the plastic biologically as they filter the water. That effectively concentrates the plastic and turns some clams into hermaphrodites,” he says. “A few years ago, we thought it was just fiber, and there was no big impact, but we now know that these very small particles can mimic things like estrogen.”

The researcher adds, however, that the actual effect is not known.

“These plastic particles are like sponges, and are like magnets that attract contamination, things like tributyltin (extremely toxic substance, used in paints for boats). The tiny particles absorb these materials and effectively become very toxic,” describes Boxall.

“We still do not know if this then impacts on the food chain.  It is still too early to know how far down the food chain these plastic particles penetrate.”

Unknown effect 

Experts from the center of Ecology and Marine Biology, University of Plymouth, in Britain, are studying the impact of pollutants on oceans and rivers and on the creatures that inhabit them. The scientist, Richard Thompson, who works at the center, was the first to describe the tiny plastic fragments as ‘microplastics’ as early as 2004.

“There are two concerns toxicologically,” says Thompson. “There is the fact that plastics are known to absorb and concentrate chemicals from seawater.”

“And the second question relates to chemicals in plastics that have been introduced since the time of manufacture to obtain specific qualities such as flexibility or flame retardant and antimicrobial substances.”

The plastic is dispersed into small fragments in nature, where there remains the possibility that these chemicals are also released into the environment.

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And the answer, according to Thompson, is that more research is needed on the subject.

The team of experts examined fish found in the English Channel, about 500 individuals from ten different species, among them, poor cod and mackerel (fish of the cod family). The study results were published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin (Lusher et al, MPB, December 2012).

“We found microscopic plastic in the guts of all species, but in relatively low amounts – one or two particles per fish – so then surely there is some risk from the standpoint of the human population consuming these fish even though they usually do not eat the viscera,” says Thompson.

But if the plastic itself is not consumed by humans, there would be no danger of contamination from the fish flesh by toxic substances contained in the plastic, and therefore, what about the man who eats fish?

Thompson says it’s still not possible to know. “The amount of plastic that we’re finding is so small that any risk from the standpoint of human consumption is nonexistent, at least from what we know right now,” he says. “Obviously this is something that needs more research.”

The expert adds, however, that the team wants to know if the plastic represents a danger to the animals that ingest it, both for its presence in their bodies as well as the possibility that they can transport within themselves harmful chemical substances.

So, on one hand, the impact of the spread of plastic trash in the seas can be evaluated by experts who study marine life in remote places like Hawaii, while the effect of “hidden” plastic spread by the oceans is more difficult to assess.

Translated from the Portuguese version by:

Lisa Karpova
Pravda.Ru
Image credit

 

The Numbers on Plastic Bottles: What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

The Numbers on Plastic Bottles: What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?

plasticnumbers 265x165 The Numbers on Plastic Bottles: What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?by Mike Barrett,
Have you ever wondered what the numbers, or recycling symbols mean at the bottom of plastic bottles and containers? Did you know that, while the use of all plastics should be limited if at all possible, some are safer than others? It’s time to learn a little bit about the various plastics you use and drink/eat from every single day, and what impact they have not only on you, but also the environment.

Every plastic container or bottle has a recycling symbol. The symbol is a number, ranging from 1 to 7, within a triangle. While you may think nothing of these symbols, they can actually offer a great deal of information regarding the toxic chemicals used in the plastic, how likely the plastic is to leach, how bio-degradable the plastic is, and ultimately the safety of the plastic.

Here is some information on the various recycling symbols and numbers:

The Recycling Symbols

Plastic #1 – PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

  • Picked up by most curbside recycling programs, plastic #1 is usually clear and used to make soda and water bottles. Some consider it safe, but this plastic is known to allow bacteria to accumulate.
  • It’s found mostly in soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, salad dressing containers, mouthwash bottles, and peanut butter containers.
  • Plastic #1 is recycled into tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, fiber, and polar fleece.

Plastic #2 – HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

  • Plastic #2 is typically opaque and picked up by most curbside recycling programs. This plastic is one of the 3 plastics considered to be safe, and has a lower risk of leaching.
  • It’s found mostly in milk jugs, household cleaner containers, juice bottles, shampoo bottles, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, motor oil bottles, yogurt tubs, and butter tubs.ilk jugs, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and toiletries bottles are made of this.  It is usually opaque. This plastic is considered safe and has low risk of leaching.
  • Plastic #2 is recycled into pens, recycling containers, picnic tables, lumber, benches, fencing, and detergent bottles, to name a few.

Plastic #3 – V or PVC (Vinyl)

    • Plastic #3 is used to make food wrap, plumbing pipes, and detergent bottles, and is seldom accepted by curbside recycling programs. These plastics used to, and still may, contain phthalates, which are linked to numerous health issues ranging from developmental problems to miscarriages. They also contain DEHA, which can be carcinogenic with long-term exposure. DEHA has also been linked to loss of bone mass and liver problems. Don’t cook with or burn this plastic.

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  • It’s found in shampoo bottles, clear food packaging, cooking oil bottles, medical equipment, piping, and windows.
  • This plastic is recycled into paneling, flooring, speed bumps, decks, and roadway gutters.

Plastic #4 – LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

  • Low density polyethylene is most found in squeezable bottles, shopping bags, clothing, carpet, frozen food, bread bags, and some food wraps. Curbside recycling programs haven’t been known to pick up this plastic, but more are starting to accept it. Plastic #4 rests among the recycling symbols considered to be safe.
  • This plastic is recycled into compost bins, paneling, trash can liners and cans, floor tiles, and shipping envelopes.

Plastic #5 – PP (Polypropylene)

  • Increasingly becoming accepted by curbside recycle programs, plastic #5 is also one of the safer plastics to look for.
  • It is typically found in yogurt containers, ketchup bottles, syrup bottles, and medicine bottles.
  • Polypropylene is recycled into brooms, auto battery cases, bins, pallets, signal lights, ice scrapers, and bycycle racks.

Plastic #6 – PS (Polystyrene)

  • Polystyrene is Styrofoam, which is notorious for being difficult to recycle, and thus, bad for the environment. This kind of plastic also poses a health risk, leaching potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated. Most recycling programs won’t accept it.
  • Plastic #6 is found in compact disc cases, egg cartons, meat trays, and disposable plates and cups.
  • It is recycled into egg cartons, vents, foam packing, and insulation.

Plastic #7 – Other, Miscellaneous

  • All of the plastic resins that don’t fit into the other categories are placed in the number 7 category. It’s a mix bag of plastics that includes polycarbonate, which contains the toxic bisphenol-A (BPA). These plastics should be avoided due to possibly containing hormone disruptors like BPA, which has been linked to infertility, hyperactivity, reproductive problems, and other health issues.
  • Plastic #7 is found in sunglasses, iPod cases, computer cases, nylon, 3- and 5-gallon water bottles, and bullet-proof materials.
  • It is recycled into plastic lumber and other custom-made products.

The Bottom Line: Which Recycling Numbers to Avoid, Which are ‘Safest’

In the end, it’s really best to avoid using all plastics if you’re able. But at the very least:

    • Avoid recycling symbols 3, 6, and 7. While Number 1 is considered safe, it is also best to avoid this plastic.

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  • Look for symbols 2, 4, and 5, as these plastics are considered to be safest. These are the plastics to look for in terms of human and animal consumption.

In the end, plastics will still be used, but you can certainly limit your use of the product. Instead of buying plastic water bottles or other plastic containers, choose glass or invest in a high quality water filtration system to obtain your water from. (This is best for your health anyway).

Additional Sources:

NaturalNews

The Daily Green

We-Impact.com

Read more: Natural Society