Once thought to be the world’s most pristine ocean, mussels in Arctic waters were shown to have the highest rates of plastic pollution among all areas tested by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA). Researchers discovered Norway’s mollusks contained 1.8 bits of microplastic, while the Arctic invertebrates held 4.3.
However, microplastics, any bit measuring less than 5 millimeters, can be found in marine life in every ocean on the planet. The tiny particles of plastic waste have been found in mollusks “everywhere scientists have looked”, including off the coasts of China, Chile, Canada, Britain, and Belgium.
Bivalve mollusks are of particular interest to scientists as they can serve as a bioindicator of the health of their surrounding marine environment, specifically as mollusks, as opposed to migratory fish, remain fixed to the ocean floor where a variety of plastics fall.
Is microplastic contamination found in marine food sources cause for alarm?
While plastic itself is relatively inert (hence, its widespread use in food packaging and other containers), the malleable material can absorb harmful chemicals found in the ocean, including persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Marine life, in turn, consumes the contaminated plastic which releases toxins into their tissues over time.
But should seafood lovers panic? According to Richard Thompson, a professor at Plymouth University and microplastics expert, not just yet. Thompson has said the presence of plastic in marine animals isn’t necessarily cause for alarm as far as human consumption goes. People are more likely to risk microplastic exposure from commonplace plastics, such as toys and clothing.
Although the effects on human health remain unclear, aquatic life often fare far worse. Plastic pollution can devastate entire ecosystems by harboring and transporting invasive marine species and killing off significant portions of marine life and birds through starvation, infection, strangulation, entanglement, and drowning.
How is so much plastic finding its way into mostly untouched waters?
The earth is a single ecosystem – what happens in one region inevitably affects distant environments like windswept nuclear fallout. North bound winds originating from the Americas and Europe in combination with strong ocean currents can carry plastics and other man-made debris to the Arctic Ocean where the marine life eventually swallows it up.
Of course, natural phenomena aren’t entirely at fault as the cause of Arctic pollution truly originates on lands hundreds of miles away. The vast majority of oceanic debris, about 80 percent, stems from urban runoff from construction sites, docks, commercial and industrial facilities, and garbage blown from bins, trucks, and landfills. The rest comes from fishing and other ship-bound activities.
Can the recycling industry help solve the problem of ocean plastic pollution?
Businesses from within and without the recycling sector can aid the nearly 200 nations that signed a UN resolution to abolish plastic waste from the ocean. Municipal recycling education and comprehensive curbside collection programs may divert waste from one bin to the other, but efficient business practices can prevent plastic and other waste materials from ever reaching the landfill and our oceans.
Plastic container manufacturers and commercial waste generators ought to follow the example of companies such as Envision Plastics and partner with their communities to establish networks from the point of waste generation through to product manufacture.
Envision Plastics, for example, realized waste from coastal communities is more likely to find its way to the ocean than garbage from further inland. And recognizing beach cleanups are a less efficient method to clean up our seas, the company began sourcing raw materials directly from manufacturers and other commercial waste generators near seaside areas. Their containers hold Method dish soap stocked in Whole Foods across the entire country.
Recycled plastics are vastly underused – only 9 percent of plastics ever produced have been recycled, while 90 percent of that material was only reused once. Recycled plastic represents a largely untapped revenue source for packaging manufacturers, material recovery facilities (MRFs), and other industrial and commercial businesses.
If you’d like to explore ways in which your company can dispose and reuse waste in an environmentally and financially smart way, please contact Berg Mill Supply. For over 50 years, we’ve been helping businesses capture significant profits from their waste streams through innovative marketing and operations strategies.