what no one tells you about plastic pollution
We have all heard about the plastic-free swaps we can make to reduce plastic consumption in our day to day life: using reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, reusable grocery bags, cloth produce bags, paper and metal straws. The list can go on. Check out our blog post about practical low-waste swaps.
At PAYARU, we definitely think these efforts to reduce the overall plastic output is worthwhile. In fact, one of our main goals as a company is to reduce the microplastic (microbead) waste that ends up in our oceans when a lot of exfoliating skin care products and toothpastes are flushed down the drain. These microbeads are typically made of polyethylene (a type of plastic) and do not biodegrade at all and can end up harming marine life.
Due to their small size, these plastics are not fully retained during the treatment stages at wastewater plants, hence some amount enters the oceans and other waterways directly (1). In order to curb this plastic pollution, instead of using microplastics, we chose to change the name of the exfoliation game. We chose to use a gentle and natural ingredient, the mung bean, to gently guide us to the microbead-less future.
Besides microplastics however, there are macroplastics (large plastics) that pollute the ocean. You may have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) located in the subtropical waters between California and Hawaii. While a lot of plastic breaks down into smaller pieces in the ocean, a large portion of the plastic pollution remains buoyant and can enter oceanic circulating ocean currents (gyres), where it starts to accumulate on the surface in large amounts. This is exactly how the Great Pacific Garbage Patch came to be.
What no one tells you about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is this: “Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1–3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area.” (2)
Yes, fishing nets. This means that common consumer plastics such as disposable cups, spoons and forks, and shampoo and soap bottles aren’t actually the biggest culprits.
The single biggest source of plastic pollution in our oceans right now is made up of discarded or abandoned fishing nets, ropes, lines, fishing crates and baskets.
Marine animals such as fish, sharks, sea otters, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and seals get entangled in these nets and end up suffocating (3). “Entanglements can lead to near‐instantaneous death through drowning, delayed death from impaired feeding, severe injuries, increased energetic demands when gear remains attached to an individual.” (4)
But there is hope. There are some efforts that are being undertaken to mitigate the fishing net pollution. You can check out The Sea Shepherd Global, The Healthy Seas Initiative, Net-Works, Ghostnets (not an exhaustive list) to learn more about their initiatives.
If you are interesting in reading more about the fishing net pollution, check out these resources:
- O'hara, K. J. (1988). A citizen's guide to plastics in the ocean: more than a litter problem. Center for Marine Conservation, 1725 DeSales Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED312152
- Fishing’s phantom menace report by World Society for the Protection of Animals: https://www.worldanimalprotection.us/sites/default/files/media/us_files/sea-change-tackling-ghost-fishing-gear-report_us.pdf
- Fendall, L. S., & Sewell, M. A. (2009). Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine pollution bulletin, 58(8), 1225-1228. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X09001799?via%3Dihub
- Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., ... & Noble, K. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific reports, 8(1), 1-15. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w
- Laist, D. W. (1997). Impacts of marine debris: entanglement of marine life in marine debris including a comprehensive list of species with entanglement and ingestion records. In Marine debris (pp. 99-139). Springer, New York, NY. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4613-8486-1_10
- Knowlton, A. R., Robbins, J., Landry, S., McKenna, H. A., Kraus, S. D., & Werner, T. B. (2016). Effects of fishing rope strength on the severity of large whale entanglements. Conservation Biology, 30(2), 318-328. https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cobi.12590