In an article published on July 19, 2016 by the newspaper The Japan Times, journalist Tomoko Otake reports on plastic pollution and the implications for the food chain and human health. Plastic waste is a global environmental problem (FPF reported), with most of it ending up in the oceans in the form of microplastics. “90 percent of microplastics come from plastics that we use in daily life that fall through the recycling system, such as plastic waste that blows out of trash bins and washes into rivers or fetches up on beaches,” explained Hideshige Takada, professor at the Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan. The plastics decay and break into small pieces when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, become tiny particles, and are easily carried offshore and accumulate in the oceans. Microplastics also include microbeads used in cosmetic products and microfibers from synthetic textiles. Most commonly, microplastics in the ocean comprise polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polystyrene (PS), Takada further explains.

Plastic debris can injure seabirds and other marine animals by clogging up or otherwise damaging their digestive system (FPF reported). Moreover, plastics contain toxic additives to increase their durability and flexibility, such as nonylphenol. Also, microplastics absorb pollutants from the oceans, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). When microplastics are ingested by marine animals, these chemicals can accumulate in the food chain (FPF reported). “If the volume of marine plastic debris continues to swell, the amount of chemicals we consume through food could eventually threaten our health,” Takada stated. Professor Takada runs the program International Pellet Watch, where people can mail him samples of plastic particles (e.g. recovered from beaches) and his team will analyze the particles for the pollutants they contain.

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Tomoko Otake (July 19, 2016). “Plastic debris in oceans a growing hazard as toxins climb the food chain.The Japan Times

Fiona Harvey (July 14, 2016). “Scientists call for better plastics design to protect marine life.The Guardian

Elizabeth Glazner (July 19, 2016). “Burn or ban? NGOs bid solutions to plastic waste.Plastic Pollution Coalition

David Vink (July 22, 2016). “Emotions are rising in plastic waste debate.Plastics News Europe