You Are What You Eat! (by Yanwen Wang)

Introduction

When we mention “plastic in oceans”, many people may relate it to the plastic trash left on the beach or floating in the oceans. Plastic trash can be seen virtually everywhere on every beach at any time worldwide. As plastic pollution is produced and found everywhere and, it has become a global problem. Many may suppose that the issue of plastic trash in the oceans is not as pressing as other environmental issues since we do not drink water directly from the sea and we do not live in the oceans like the marine wildlife. However, few of us know that the visible plastic pollutants are only part of the plastic pollutant family, namely “Marine Debris”. Marine debris can be “any manufactured or processed solid waste material that enters the marine environment from any source” (“The Problem With Marine Debris”). Which is consisted of three different types of plastic debris including micro debris, meso debris, and macro debris according to size (“Plastic Trash in the Oceans”). The plastic garbage we understand in common sense should fall into the category of macro debris and meso debris while the impacts of micro plastic pollutants are usually overlooked.

Besides trash dumped by fishing industries, pleasure and cargo ships, eighty percent of trash ends up in the oceans are created by human activities such as litter from beachgoers, industrial discharges, improper garbage management, and most surprisingly – the use of personal care products. Here is how you may contribute to poisoning the oceans every day: when you wake up every morning and walk into your bathroom, you are probably washing your face or brushing your teeth with plastic microbeads. These tiny plastic beads used in face and body scrubs and toothpaste are directly washed into the drain and in our water systems, where they harm our waterways and the animals that live there (“Campaigns”). This is the one of the most dangerous pollutants and we are creating them every single day. The micro plastic particles absorb the persistent pollutants and are consumed by a variety of marine life, including the fish we harvest for food (“Campaigns”).

According to recent research and studies, an estimate of 268,000 metric tons of plastic debris plastic and 5.25 trillions of micro plastic particles are floating in the oceans worldwide; marine debris has already imposed great safety and health hazards on human beings (“Campaigns”). In a broader perspective, plastic, to our surprise, also exists in the form of micro plastic particles which cannot be seen with the naked eye; it “endangered marine wildlife and their aquatic habitats, impacts the health and safety of human beings, costs local and national economies million dollars in wasted resources, and lost revenues” (“The Problem With Marine Debris ”).

Until today, we are still living in a fantasy that the vast ocean can thin out any trash or pollutants dumped in and then we can continue consuming plastics without worries. However, studies and numerous real stories have shown us that we need to redefine the tolerance of the ocean against plastic pollutants and start facing the critical problem.

Research Question:

How do we identify any products contain microbeads and how we can help the micro-plastic pollution.

A Look at the Research

Yanwen1Corley, Cheryl. “Why Those Tiny Microbeads In Soap May Pose Problem For Great Lakes Corley, Cheryl. “Why Those Tiny Microbeads In Soap May Pose Problem For Great Lakes.” NPR. NPR, 21 May 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.

This article describes that the microbeads used in personal care products such as exfoliants and soap acan slop through water treatment plants and be washed down to the oceans and, now Great Lakes. These microbeads look like food can be mistaken eaten by organisms living under the water, and they are making their way into food web. The article provides industry exploring alternatives to replace these microbeads since they are not the essential parts of cleansing products. Banning microbeads in consumer products is an important first step and there is a long way to go in order to get rid of them. The article relates readers with Great Lakes and even other waterways they feel closer to their lives. And banning microbeads have been passed in some states already. The experts in the article makes the source convincing. 

MacNeil, Sean. “Bloom’s Ban on Plastic Microbeads Passes California Assembly.” Santa Monica Daily Press. Santa Monica Daily Press, 25 May 2015. Web. 31 May 2015.

It is a very recent news that Ban on plastic microbeads has been passed on May 25 2015 in California. This progress makes readers see more organizations and states, even legislation are supporting this ban.

Fendall, Lisa S., and Mary A. Sewell. “Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: Microplastics in facial cleansers.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 58.8 (2009): 1225-1228

Plastics pollution in the ocean is an area of growing concern, with research efforts focusing on both the macroplastic (>5 mm) and microplastic (

How to Get Involved

Plastics are entering the marine environment from a large variety of sources. Do your best to minimize your plastic consumption and try to ensure that little of it gets into the environment. Here are a few suggestions:

-Be a conscious consumer! For example, switch to bars of soap, cosmetics, and personal care products free of microbeads. The good news is that several companies are committing to phasing them out over the next few years. Several states are considering bans, and there is federal legislation under consideration (The Microbead-Free Waters Act). With all of these efforts, hopefully finding microbead-free products will get easier! Also pay attention to what your clothing is made of and buy materials that will not break down into microplastics.

– Support the petition for banning microbeads (www.5gyres.com

– Don’t litter! If you see plastic litter, pick it up and dispose of it.

-Ditch the bottled water and carry a reusable water bottle.

-Use glass food containers and reusable fabric lunch bags to transport your food between school/work and home.

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2 comments

  1. R.V.

    Yanwen, this is such and interesting, and yet surprising topic! I am slightly blown away that I have never heard of this issue before, although you make it perfectly clear why this is a threat to long-term marine and human life. I wonder if I have not heard of this because Portland is not necessarily known as a “seafood” city and we are not situated on a major lake or bay. However, considering our state’s efforts to protect and reintroduce salmon, and the fact that Portland is connected to two major rivers here in Oregon, it is certainly likely that this issue may be affecting us here at home.

    I would have liked to learn how you became introduced to this topic, and how you feel about it overall, (although your tone is quite clear in your post). During your research, did you come across ways that consumers can identify “materials that will not break down into microplastics?” I would love to learn more about this. I am lucky that I am able to recycle plastic materials here at home, but I’m curious about which items are not so obviously made of plastic (you mention clothing).

    The potential health implications from this, for humans, immediately seems immense. Not only are we ingesting a foreign material by eating contaminated sea fish, we are also exposing ourselves to the chemicals that make up the plastic, along with all other chemicals that were absorbed into it while it was in open water. Very concerning, indeed. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  2. Desiree M

    Yanwen-

    Great topic. I have been reading up on this issue in my personal time over the past 2 years, when I first heard about it. Just like with cigarette butts, and floating trash/plastic islands, humans as a populations have done great amounts of destruction to our precious oceans. The removal of microbeads is well underway, but there are always going to be more plastics we are carelessly disposing of that will continue to pollute and destroy our environment and the ecosystems around us.

    I am so glad that you added more to your getting involved section than just the microbeads. While that was the main concept of your writing, it is important to people to know that the plastics we introduce to our surroundings have a great deal of effect and we can help reduce our use of plastic in many more ways than just buying cosmetics that do not contain it. I hope your writing sparks one of our classmates, or future readers to make a change from one use water bottles to reusable ones, or from plastic bags to paper or fabric ones.

    The only critique I could make would be to talk a little more about your research or have a paragraph or two in your getting involved section instead of just a few quick bullet points. Overall engaging topic.

    Desiree M

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