When we use that plastic bag, take a sip from that disposable water bottle, or opt for the plastic straw, we use it once and forget about it. Many people do not realize how quickly that tiny act will come back and hurt not only our ocean life and environment, but us, the human population, as well. When making an eco-friendly decision, you are protecting the entirety of Earth and all its inhabitants. Likewise, when we are careless, it’ll come back around.
All pollution in our waterways eventually comes back to us, especially plastic. In this National Geographic article, a water flea can be seen. When looking closely, there are tiny fluorescent green particles in the flea. Those tiny particles are actually microplastics that the flea has ingested. This finding can be applied to other small marine animals, such as plankton or shrimp. The issue arises in the fact that these small organisms are eaten by small fish, which are then eaten by larger fish, which eventually are eaten by humans. Therefore, when we enjoy those fresh shrimp or have fish for dinner, we’re consuming those pieces of plastic and debris that our meal once consumed too. Today, the majority of people have microplastics in them.
The scariest part is that scientists aren’t exactly sure how plastic in our diet is going to affect us in the future. What is known, however, is already frightening. Because plastic never completely biodegrades (it just breaks down into tinier and tinier pieces), microplastics in the human body have the ability to move through cells and into organs and tissues. Plastics act in this way because they have chemicals called phthalates, which makes it a strong and durable material. However, phthalates are toxic to humans. Furthermore, according to Dr. George Bittner, a professor of Neurobiology at the University of Texas, Austin, most plastics release similar chemicals such as BPA have estrogenic activity, meaning they mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. In animals, BPA has been associated with decreased fertility, cancer, behavioral changes, and developmental changes. How will BPA and similar chemicals in plastic affect people? Again, scientists aren’t sure yet, but there is growing concerns considering how the plastic is affecting animals. Breathing in plastic fumes has been linked to pulmonary problems, cancer, and other issues as well, so how would consuming it be different?
Given all these potential side effects of plastic consumption, what can we do to reduce the chances of it happening? The answer is simple; Reduce plastic use and dispose of it properly. Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Whenever possible, avoid single use plastic and opt for a more eco-friendly option. Instead of a plastic bag, bring a reusable one. When offered a plastic straw at a restaurant, don’t take it. Often, single use plastic accidentally ends up in our waterways, and refusing/reducing use of it is one way to ensure it doesn’t make its way through the ocean and onto our plates. Reusing and recycling plastic also does the job of keeping debris out of our oceans. Similarly, avoiding foods/drinks wrapped or bottled in plastic reduces the chance of phthalates and BPA ending up in our food. When you live by the four R’s, you are not only protecting the environment, but your own safety as well.