Plastics In Rainwater, Plastics In Snow, Plastics In Our Food, Plastics Everywhere

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Congratulations, humans. We have filled the environment with so much plastic, its residue is found in rainwater and snow falling on the tallest mountains and contained in much of the food we eat. No one knows what the effect of drinking and eating micro-plastic are because this has never happened before in the 4.5-billion year history of the Earth, but it’s reasonable to assume it cannot be good news for our lungs, brains, and other internal organs.

micro=plastic research
Collecting snow samples in the Alos. Credit: Melanie Bergmann/Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Science Advances

Yet still we consume billions of tons of plastics each year and pretend everything is alright. But it is not all right. We are poisoning ourselves with our own waste products and proud of it. All of this damage has been done in the relatively short time since the end of World War II when plastics first came into vogue. Our good friends at Dow, Dupont, and Monsanto, among others, gorged themselves on the profits derived from selling plastics yet no one ever seriously considered what to do with the stuff once it was discarded.

It is yet another example of what happens when a weaponized version of capitalism allows corporations to place all the burden of cleaning up the mess they make on the shoulders of society while retaining all the profits for themselves. Such an economic system is so monumentally corrupt you would think someone would have blown the whistle on it long ago. The companies have spent hundreds of millions to include local, state, and federal officials in their scheme so they could rake in hundreds of billions in profits.

Micro-Plastics In Sea Ice & Snow

According to research led by Dr. Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany and published August 14 in the journal Science Advances, “Microplastic concentrations in snow were very high, indicating significant contamination of the atmosphere. It basically gets everywhere with the wind.” The team collected 22 samples from Arctic sea ice and snow from Svalbard, an island well north of the Arctic circle and the German and Swiss Alps and the city of Bremen.

The samples from the ice floes between Greenland and Svalbard contained an average of 1,760 micro-plastic particles per liter.  The amounts from European locations were much, much higher — 24,600 micro-plastic particles per liter on average.

Bergman tells The Guardian, “I am convinced there are many more particles in the smaller size range beyond our detection limit. The worry with smaller particles is they can be taken up by a greater range of organisms and, if they reach nano-scale, they could penetrate cell membranes and translocate into organs much more easily than the larger fraction.”

Another study published in June found that people consume about 50,000 plastic particles a year. Is that a problem? Not if you don’t care about living a long, healthy life. “We really need research on the human health aspect. There are so many studies being published now on micro-plastics but nothing on human health, and that is really strange in my opinion,” Bergman says.

Micro-Plastics In Rocky Mountain Rainwater

Plastic fibers in Rocky Mountain rainwater. Credit: Gregory Weatherbee, US Geological Survey

Recently, Gregory Wetherbee of the US Geological Survey collected rainwater samples in the Rocky Mountains. He expected to find mostly soil and mineral particles. What he found instead was a large amount of multi-colored plastic fibers in all shapes and sizes.

Plastic was the furthest thing from his mind when he began analyzing rainwater samples collected from the Rocky Mountains. “I guess I expected to see mostly soil and mineral particles,” said the US Geological Survey researcher. Instead, he found multicolored microscopic plastic fibers. His findings have been published by the USGS under the title “It’s Raining Plastics.”

“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye,” Wetherbee tells The Guardian. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.” That rainwater in the Rockies is what millions of people rely on for drinking water and growing crops.

Little Research On Micro-Plastics To Date

Research into plastic in the world’s oceans has been going on for a decade or more, but very little has been done about the amount of plastic in freshwater and in the air. Stefan Krause of the University of Birmingham says, “We haven’t really started quantifying it.”

Asked how long it would take to flush all the existing plastic out of the natural world, he replied, “Even if we waved a magic wand and stopped using plastic, it’s unclear how long plastic would continue to circulate through our rivers waters systems. Based on what we do know about plastic found in deep sources of groundwater, and accumulated in rivers, I would guess centuries.”

Sherri Mason, a micro-plastics researcher and sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend says, “We may never understand all the linkages between plastics and health. But we know enough to say that breathing plastic probably isn’t good, and we should start thinking about dramatically reducing our dependence on plastic.”

How could such a reduction happen? The same way a significant reduction in carbon emissions could happen — by putting a price on plastic that would discourage giant corporations from manufacturing gigatons of the stuff with no regard to what happens when it gets thrown away. Just suggest that and listen to the plastic makers and consumers scream. But an economic system that does not put a price on cleaning up its waste products is not a free market exercise, it is a scam, a fraud, and quite possibly a criminal enterprise.

Plastic Straws For Trump

Don’t expect political leaders in the US to take up this issue any time soon. As if we needed any more proof that politics is infecting every aspect of American life, Team Trump is now offering 10 plastic straws embossed with the name of the polluter in chief for the low, low price of only $15. Paper straws are now labelled as something liberals are trying to cram down the throats of right-thinking Americans.

You may think this is a joke but sales have totaled nearly $500,000 so far. Now it is possible to suck up to the president in every sense of the word while making the world a more dangerous place. Doesn’t get any more American than that, does it?

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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