Microplastics and Our Marine Life

by libbygeorge123 on November 25, 2016 - 12:59pm

John Vidal writes in the “The Guardian” about how microplastics should be banned to save the world’s oceans. A group of MP’s on the United Kingdom’s Environmental Audit Committee address the microplastics problem and the need for microbeads to be banned. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic found in the ocean due to the breaking down of larger plastic debris, small synthetic fibres from clothing, or microbeads used in cosmetics.

Committee chair Mary Creagh comments that a single shower could result in 100,000 particles entering the ocean, and that a full legal ban at the international level is needed to combat the pollutant. Vidal writes that many of the large cosmetic companies made commitments to phase out microbeads by 2020, but the committee felt that a national ban starting in 18 months would have the advantage of consistency for consumers and the industry. Microbeads are a large part of the microplastics issue, because they can be ingested by marine life and transfer other chemical pollutants through the food chain. An estimated 15-51 tons of microplastic particles have already polluted our oceans. They can be found on shorelines, the ocean surface, sea sediments, and arctic ice. The environmental audit committee urgently calls for research because little has been done on the potential impacts of these beads to human and marine health.

I agree with Mary Creagh that international bans are needed to combat the pollutant. Microbeads are part of the overall microplastics problem that we can control by shutting down the source. States should exercise their legislative power to control the material practices of the cosmetics industry by passing bills to ban these products. Fortunately, this is already occurring in some parts of the world including the USA and UK (Janssen, 2016) (Vidal, 2016).

The state also needs to address management of marine life. Vidal states that the environmental audit committee of the UK calls for more research on the effects of the beads on marine and human life. Not only should more research be done, but monitoring systems should be put in place to monitor microbead presence and the presence of associated chemicals in marine life. Public participation such as citizen scientists and volunteers could be used to start a worldwide monitoring network, in which fish and microbeads of different areas are monitored for contamination. This would help increase the knowledge and variety of data on the subject of microbeads as pollutants with implications of balancing the decisions of environmental and fishery managers in the future. If microbeads prove to have significant bioaccumulation in the food chain with negative effects on human health, fishery managers will be faced with some difficult decisions and the monitoring of fish population health will become an important factor in the fishing industry in the future.

Janssen, H. (2016, January 8). Obama signs law banning environmentally damaging microbeads. AccuWeather.com. http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/microbeads-ban-2017-new-law-o...

Vidal, J. (2016, August 24). Microplastics should be banned in cosmetics to save oceans, MP’s say. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/24/microplastics-ban-in...


This topic is of huge debate as you are aware and after reading this blog it is helped me understand the gravity of the situation. I agree with your statement that there should absolutely be a ban on micro plastics, to the point of getting citizens and volunteers help develop a better understanding on how they are affecting marine wildlife. The depth you go into with the fisheries having to make difficult decisions about how to deal with such contaminants is very thorough. If there were such significant bioaccumulation in the food chain how would there be any sort of remediation to this problem if it has already occurred? Would there just be a wait to see if it has an effect on the fisheries or is there a way to help contain the problem with it already having happened. I believe you are on the right track with having more studies to determine the degree of seriousness that has already occurred. I am just curious as to whether there is a chance at recovery rather than just the ban of the product immediately. Is the damage already done so to speak?

Hi Will, thanks for your comment.

To answer your question about possible remediation, I think there is no way to feasibly get the micro beads out of the ocean. But perhaps if their chemical association is having a significant impact on marine wildlife, then the next route of decision making would need to involve the chemicals themselves and of course stopping the manufacturing of the microbeads in general. If we cannot remove microbeads from the environment feasibly, perhaps we could stop the use of the chemical compounds binding to them eg. pesticides and other organic compounds or have very strict laws on how these chemicals are used.

You are right about the fisheries. There is not a way to reverse this process, but we can stop it from getting worse and we can monitor it as extensively as need be. Currently we need more scientific research on the mechanisms of how the chemicals are binding to the beads because this is not fully understood from what I have read. In the meantime I think that if microbead use can be banned, and more research is conducted on the effects of bioaccumulation then we will be on the right track.