The Science Behind Plastic Pollution

In college, it became real to me that there was a massive disconnect between the scientific community and the rest of the population. Scientific jargon is used in important papers and journals which can be very confusing if you haven't spent years studying the subject.  It's even easier to become confused when newscasters constantly promote fake or botched science, and do so in an incredible muddled way.  Science should be made widely available, and we need more people to translate big, bulky papers into readable material for the everyday person who hasn't spent years studying how to read and analyze them. 

So, I have taken a massive amount of science and broken it down into something more readable.  

Please, enjoy.

 
 
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where are the Plastics?

Plastics are globally distributed, and present in significant levels as marine pollution in every ocean on the planet.  Scientists have estimated that "at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea."


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how do plastics affect marine life?

Ocean plastic impacts marine animals of all sizes, and causes marine life harm in three major ways: entanglementingestion, and toxicity.


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Is there a plastic Canary in the Coal-Mine?

Yes, they're adorable sea birds called fulmars. In a recent study it was found that 95% of sampled northern fulmars had plastic in their stomachs (Franekera et al 2011).


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do animals Actually eat plastics?

Yes, because many plastic particles are so small, they can and are being ingested very low on the food chain.  Therefore, plastics can accumulate in aquatic food webs, which is potentially hazardous to both ecological and human health.


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what are microplastics?

Microplastics are plastic pieces/pellets that are less than 5 mm (.2 inches) in diameter, which is slightly larger than a grain of sand.  The reason they are terrifying is that they can move up the food chain more easily than larger plastic particles.


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freshwater plastic pollution

When our freshwater systems are effected by plastics, they have an impact on both terrestrial and marine systems. Unfortunately, their impact is widely unknown because they are not heavily studied.


Photo Credits: NOAA,Gijsbert Tweehuijsen,  Chesapeake Bay Program, and  kris krüg