Microplastics – a sea of waste

(Article from Making Tracks, Spring 2017)

Microplastics – tiny plastic beads, granules, fibres and fragments less than 5mm in diameter – are saturating our oceans and having a severe impact on marine life. The government recently consulted on banning microbeads – one form of micro plastic – from cosmetics and personal care products. Molly, whose South West constituency encompasses an extensive coastline, responded to the consultation by calling for the inclusion of all products containing microbeads, not just cosmetics; no exemptions for so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics – as they do not degrade in the marine environment – and a complete ban on selling any product containing microbeads within two years.

An estimated 280 million tonnes of plastic products are produced each year but only around a third of this is recovered for reuse or recycling. Much of the remaining plastic debris makes its way to our seas and oceans.

A wide range of marine life has now been found to ingest microplastic particles including mussels, worms, fish and even plankton, which underpins the whole marine food chain. As well as being toxic, the tiny particles can prevent animals from consuming their natural prey, leading to starvation and even death. Molly Scott Cato said:

“Many other countries have banned cosmetic microbeads and our government must act comprehensively, not just on microbeads but on all microplastics. One Plymouth University study found 10% of sand from a beach was in fact tiny plastic particles. Activists and academics in the South West have been leading the way in exposing the problems of microplastics.  For example, the excellent City to Sea campaign in Bristol has been instrumental in persuaded major retailers to switch cotton sticks from plastic to biodegradable paper stems.

“We must tackle this scourge because it is having a devastating impact on marine environment food chains. Ultimately, a healthy coastal and marine environment is essential for the health and wellbeing of us all.”