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Plastic in our waters

Vocabulary

Microplastic is a small piece, under the size of 5 millimeters which has been formulated from the plastic. Approximately 10 % of the plastic waste floating in the World’s sea area is microplastic.

Urban Runoff is called the water coming from urban areas during the rain and the melting of the snow or other activities related to water (for example car washing and road cleaning with water). Runoffs are creating harm especially because they are containing harmful substances which are getting into our waters through different channels.

Man-made fiber is a synthetic fiber developed by humans and to make it similar or even better than natural fibers. The problem is that especially synthetic textile products like fleece and technical sportswear contain a lot of microplastic which is spreading into the waters through different draining channels when these textiles are washed.

Watch the video and answer the questions:

  1. What are microplastics and what are they causing?
  2. Where is the plastic coming from? Give at least three examples.
  3. What can you do to avoid plastic and microplastics getting into the waters?

Transcript

Hello everyone,

I am Jenna, a Finnish intern in Bellona, St. Petersburg. Today we are talking about a very important topic – plastic getting to our waters all around the World. Plastic waste is not only a problem in the oceans, but waters generally. It is a global problem which is why I wanted to talk about this with you today. 

Finland is called to be the land of thousands of lakes. Indeed, this is true, because depending on how you are determining the lake, Finnish environmental center (Syke) has counted Finland to have 57 000-168 000 lakes. Currently our lakes are in a good shape, but in the future the waters are threatened especially because of climate change and microplastics. These factors are creating a threat not only in Finland, but in the whole World. 

Let’s start by determining what microplastic is. It is a very small piece, under the size of 5 millimeters which is made of plastic. Because of microplastics’ long longevity, they create a threat to the environment. Microplastics formulate in many ways, when using the products including microplastic or when the product that has been thrown away starts to decompose. Microplastics are spread into the waters among the municipal water to where they have gone for example from the cosmetic products or from the wash of textiles made of man-made fiber. Microplastics are also carried to the waters by the urban runoff from the streets. 

Now is a good time to wonder, how are these microplastics affecting us and our ecosystem?

Microplastics have been found from the stomach of fish as well as the stomach of humans where they can especially end up by drinking water. There is still not enough information considering the toxicity of microplastics. However, it’s still good to be careful and cautious, because from the information we have learned already, it can be harmful for seabed organisms. If you didn’t know what seabed organisms mean, they are species living in the very bottom of the ocean. In addition, microplastics can even penetrate the human through the placenta straight to the fetal.

The reality is, that currently there are large amounts of plastic floating around the oceans, and these can be even called a waste continent. The plastic waste is causing harm and even deaths to different animals. Waste accumulation floating in the Pacific Ocean has been said to be “the biggest landfill” in the World and it is already the size of Texas. However, even though these floating landfills are a concerning issue, plastic is not only floating there, but everywhere in the sea area. It is also important to realize that the problem is not only in the oceans, but for example rivers are polluted by the plastic as well. 

Where is the plastic coming from?

I think that you are now wondering, where is the plastic coming from?

According to international environmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), around 80% of the waste floating in the oceans is coming from onshore, which means that the waste is coming from the land. Here are some examples for the sources of floating plastic. 

– The major sources for the microplastics are the wheels of cars, synthetic fibers and cosmetics which end up in the waters via rainwater and drain channels. For example, maybe you have never even thought about the fact that when you are washing your face with soap, you can actually harm nature if the product includes microplastics!

  – Also, tourists in the beach areas are sometimes leaving behind different kinds of packaging materials and toys of all kinds. For example, one plastic straw can float in the water for around 200 years! And if you forgot to throw your plastic Pepsi bottle to the recycling bin and you left it near the beach water, it can float around the sea even for 450 years!

– In addition, there are overloading drains onshore which are leaking with the help of rain into the waters. The water is carrying different plastic waste from the street which is also containing microplastics.

As you can see, unfortunately we humans are responsible for producing waste and consuming products including the source of microplastics and plastic generally. Plastic is literally everywhere, even in the materials of our clothes. Therefore, recycling and making sustainable consuming choices is extremely important and we will discuss this next.

 What can be done?

To avoid the problem of microplastic or any other kind of plastic spreading into our waters, it is important to handle the wastewaters carefully and effectively. However, it is also very important to avoid larger plastic waste to end up in nature and into the rivers and waters in general. This can be done by using an efficient waste management system and by emphasizing recycling. These steps are also something that we can all do!

  1. Recycle! We can make sure to handle our waste properly and recycle as much from our waste as possible.
  2. Consume less products made from plastic, or which include microplastic! However, before even recycling, we should make sure to not consume products which are made from plastic of any kind. The focus should be on sustainable products, products which are recyclable, and which do not create that much waste.
  3. Use more public transportation and prefer walking and cycling! One of the biggest sources of microplastics are the wheels of cars, which makes it important to reduce the use of private cars by choosing public transportation or walking.

I thank you all for listening and giving me your time and interest. I hope you learned something today and will be paying attention to these factors which we talked about today.

Have a great day!