Not Just an Island of Plastic in the Pacific Ocean

Plastic. When I was much younger, I never gave it a second thought.

One day I was nuking some prepared chicken salad in the microwave. I just plopped it into the microwave inside the little flimsy plastic container in which it had been sold. Unexpectedly I was vigorously scolded, “That plastic container is not microwave safe! You know that, right? That could give you cancer!”


Then I read that you shouldn’t leave your plastic water bottles filled with water in the car. Something toxic in the plastic would leach into the water. For the first time I began paying attention to the containers we use. Was it at all possible that plastic really was not good for us? How could that be?!

I noted that containers in at least some way affect the taste of the things they contain. For example, Diet Coke tastes best from a glass bottle. Diet Coke from a can and from a plastic container each taste differently, very subtle, but absolutely differently. How could that be unless something in the container was getting into the drink?

Then I started to see photos of dead sea birds who had so much plastic in their rotting stomachs they had died of starvation. Their stomachs couldn’t hold food as there was no room in them. I began seeing photos of turtles stuck in the discarded plastic packs that hold the cans and plastic bottles of drinks together when you buy them.1

I read articles about the huge island of plastic swirling in the Pacific Ocean. I’ve seen research vessels heading out to sea to study this bizarre plastic continent. I had no idea the plastics were finding their way en masse to the ocean.

I began seeing huge amounts of plastic (bottle tops and broken up pieces of plastic) mixed in with the sea shells along the California coast of the Pacific Ocean. Seashore cleanup efforts were being launched to clean up the increasing amount of plastic debris.

The scope of the problem was becoming incomprehensible.

In the last six months I’m been unexpectedly seeing and reading articles about how plastics are impacting our bodies in unexpected ways. Male infertility is sharply rising at an alarming rate. The chemicals our bodies absorb from plastics are being blamed. Microplastics are being found in our bodies.

Apparently our clothes and carpets often contain plastic fibers and microplastics. Plastic particles (microplastics) are found in our lungs from the air we breath2 and especially in those who handle plastic products in their workplace.

French researchers recently published these findings:

  • the concentration of plastic fibers in the air indoors is substantially higher than in the air outdoors, indoor fibers are also longer;
  • plastic particles are found in lung tissue. This indicates that the body is not able to rid itself of all particles;
  • when particles remain in the lungs, they remain there for a long time because they are bio-persistent;
  • all kinds of fibers appear to cause infections when the concentration reaches a certain level or after prolonged inhalation. It also matters how long the fibers are because longer fibers appear to be more damaging;
  • workers who handle plastic textile fibers are known to suffer from many types of lung disease, from coughing to limited lung capacity;
  • a significant shortcoming in the research is the measurement method. The researchers were only able to study fibers of 50 μm, but it is vital that particles under 10 μm in size are studied.

Naturally the plastics industry is trying to deny, deny, deny. But one thing is without doubt: plastics are becoming a problem. The extent and severity of the problem has yet to be defined.

So our household has been trying for some time now to reduce our plastics footprint. We still generate a massive amount of plastic trash and need to find ways to do a better job of achieving our plastic reduction goal. Hopefully this month we will receive (and love) our FinalStraws.

Interesting reads:

  1. I started cutting them up before discarding them; so, the turtles wouldn’t get stuck and grow in horribly deformed ways. 

  2. Apparently, the level of microplastics in the indoor air we breathe is worse than the outdoor air we breathe.