The man of the plastic age: how people destroy themselves and the Earth - ForumDaily
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The man of the plastic age: how people destroy themselves and the Earth

The entire planet is teeming with microplastics. But humanity still knows very little about the risks it poses to living beings. Therefore, scientists decided to explore global questions that have so far remained unanswered. Writes about it with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

PhD researcher from the University of London Daniela Hodgson said that even worms eat microplastics, then they can transfer it through the food chain to birds and fish.

“We want to see how much plastic is potentially ending up on the island's shores - how much is in the sediment, and how much is being eaten by animals,” says Hodgson. — If there is a lot of plastic around, will it end up in food? What types of plastic, shapes, colors, sizes? We can then use such information for experiments to find out the effects of consuming such plastic on different animals."

Microplastics are commonly referred to as plastics smaller than 5 mm, or about the size of a sesame seed. There are many questions about the impact of these tiny bits of plastic coming from the big plastic trash, cosmetics and clothing that have yet to be answered. It is only obvious that microplastics have reached the most remote corners of our planet in a matter of decades.

“It's absolutely everywhere,” says Hodgson, who studies the movement of plastic in marine ecosystems. “Microplastics can be found in the sea, in freshwater habitats like rivers and lakes, in the atmosphere, in food.”

Million dollar question

The island of Great Cumbrai, off the coast of Scotland, is a favorite day trip destination for residents of neighboring cities, particularly Glasgow. The ferry from the town of Largs brings cyclists and walkers here, as well as scientists working at the marine station on the island.

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While we were on a boat near the shore to see plastic samples being collected from sea water, a dolphin joined us and swam alongside our boat for a while.

Even in this remote location, plastic pollution is visible on the beach. Professor David Morritt, who leads the research team at Royal Holloway University, points to blue twine and pieces of plastic bottles that have washed ashore along with seaweed. Where this plastic comes from is “the million-dollar question,” he says, holding up a piece of blue rope.

“We just saw plastic washed up on the shore and we can confidently say that it was fishing line or the remains of fishing nets. Sometimes it's much more complicated. By identifying the type of polymer, the type of plastic, and then comparing them with known uses of these polymers, you can sometimes understand where this plastic might have come from,” explains the professor.

From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to Britain's riverbeds and streams, microplastics are one of the planet's most pervasive pollutants. It is found everywhere - from the deepest parts of our oceans to the stomachs of whales and seabirds.

The use of plastic in recent decades has increased so much that microplastic is becoming an integral part of the Earth's sedimentary rocks.

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While exploring sedimentary rocks off the coast of California, Dr. Jennifer Brandon found disturbing evidence of how our love for plastic leaves an indelible mark on the planet.

“I found an exponential increase in microplastics that remain in sediment, and this exponential increase in microplastics almost perfectly mirrors the exponential increase in plastic production,” she noted. “The plastic we use ends up in the ocean and then ends up in fossils.”

The era of plastic

The discovery suggests that after the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, we are moving on to the Plastic Age.

“Decades from now, hundreds of years from now, plastic will probably be used as a geological marker of our heritage,” said Dr. Brandon of the University of San Diego. “We are essentially polluting the ocean with petroleum products. This is hardly a recipe for a healthy ocean.”

One big unknown is how microplastics might affect living things. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report concluding that while particles in tap and bottled water do not pose a clear health risk, more research and evidence is needed.

Dr Brandon says we need to know the 'plastic footprint' of animals that end up on our tables.

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“Microplastic particles are small enough to be eaten by plankton, coral polyps and shellfish, but how do they accumulate in the food chain? she asks. “If we talk about large fish, do they themselves eat plastic or do they eat thousands of small fish, which in turn feed on plankton, saturated with a lot of microplastics?”

“How high is the plastic footprint of a fish like tuna by the time it reaches your dinner table? This is not always known,” the researcher sums up.

Just the beginning

Scientists have collected water and sediment samples, filtered to isolate the plastic, which is being studied under a microscope along with plastic found in marine animals on Great Cambrai. Ms Hodgson says plastic has been found in all specimens, including animals, but especially in Cames Bay on the south coast of the island.

Animals such as whales, dolphins and turtles eat large plastic trash like plastic bags. This can lead to starvation. However, other studies show less obvious effects from microplastic use.

“It may not kill them, but over time there can be damage at a cellular level that will affect their energy balance and how they can cope with it, so microplastics entering a living organism over a long period of time can cause a whole range of unpleasant consequences.” consequences,” says Danielle Hodgson.

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Further research will help to find answers to many questions, but some of them will take a lot of time to solve.

“We know there are crazy amounts of microplastics, and we find them everywhere we look,” Brandon says. “But the health implications of it and how it actually affects animals and people is something we are just beginning to understand.”

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