September is Microplastic Awareness Month!



(Click on the image for a printable pdf document)

September is Microplastic Awareness Month. Watch this page for posts, and please share them on your social media pages or through other resources! Click on any of the images for a larger version.

Join our webinar, "What's the big deal with microplastics?" This webinar will run from 12:15 to 1 pm on Friday, September 16, 2016. To register, use this link.
What are microplastics? Where do they come from? Why are they a problem? We’ll be making daily posts on social media during the month of September to try and increase awareness about this emerging environmental issue.
TedEd video: Nurdles Quest for Worlwide Domination Nurdles. Who would have thought that something with such a fun name could be such a problem? This 5-minute video provides a great overview about the ocean's problem with plastic pollution.
There are two types of microplastics—primary microplastics are those that are deliberately made to be less than 5 mm in size. These include “microbeads” in many personal care products, and “nurdles” which are the form in which plastic is shipped to manufacturers. Secondary microplastics started off as larger plastic items, but have degraded over time into smaller and smaller pieces.
How can you reduce your contribution to the microplastic problem? Have you checked your personal care product labels to see if they contain polyethylene (plastic)? Find out more ways you can help by taking the plastic pledge at http://bit.ly/plasticpledge.

When plastics get into the ocean, they are often eaten by marine organisms. Even the tiniest marine life (plankton) can eat microplastics. Consumption of plastic can be deadly for some marine animals.  

Photo credits: (turtle) NOAA 

(plastic bag jellyfish) Wikimedia Commons user seegraswiese. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 

(blue jellies) Wikimedia Commons user ProjectManhattan. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 

Many people are aware that personal care products like facial scrub and toothpaste might contain plastic “microbeads.” Did you know that your deodorant, body lotion and makeup products also often contain plastic? Check the labels and avoid products containing polyethylene. Only rinse-off cosmetics that are designed to cleanse or exfoliate are covered by the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.
Sadly, more and more plastic is appearing on our beaches. With the small fragments of plastic, it is often difficult to tell what they once were. Over time, and with exposure to the elements (especially UV light from the sun), plastic items will weaken and break apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Sometimes they still have telltale characteristics that allow us to determine their source.
Synthetic fabrics (e.g. polyester, nylon, acrylic, microfiber) shed microscopic plastic fibers when washed. Many of these fibers pass through the wastewater treatment plants and are discharged into local waterways in wastewater effluent. The best way to reduce this source of microplastics is to choose natural fabrics (e.g. cotton, linen, hemp, wool, silk, rayon, tencel) when purchasing clothing, linens, cleaning supplies etc.
Pacific oysters that were fed polystyrene (plastic) microbeads along with algae for a 2 month period had significant decreases in egg production and sperm mobility. Additionally, larval yield and survival were lower in these oysters compared to controls. The authors theorize that the oysters put energy into clearing the plastics (“elevated maintenance”), reducing the energy available for reproduction.
About 50 million single use plastic water bottles are thrown away in the US every day. Using a reusable drink container instead of single-use ones can greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate. It is estimated that 1.5 to 4.5 % of plastic waste generated ends up in the ocean. This means that annually, about 275-820 MILLION water bottles used in the US could end up in the ocean.
Petroelum-based plastics do seem to “go away”—we are probably all familiar with sun-baked plastic items becoming brittle and breaking into small pieces. This photodegradation continues until plastics turn into plastic dust. But these plastics do not return to their elemental form (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine, sulfur), so they never actually biodegrade.
The National Institutes of Health maintains a Household Products Database (https://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/). If you search this database for the key word “polyethylene,” you will find a list of personal care products that contain plastic. Some of them might surprise you! 
Toxins that are present in the ocean (nasty chemicals like PCBs, PAHs, and DDTs) adsorb to the surface of plastics in the water. They actually can become concentrated there—as much as a million times more concentrated on the plastic than in the water. When organisms eat the plastics, or come into contact with the plastics (e.g. in the sediment), the toxins can leach into the animals’ tissues.
The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project is a citizen-science project investigating the amount of plastic in Florida’s coastal waters. Funded by a 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Outreach and Education Grant, the citizen scientists have found that 88-90% of the one-liter samples collected contained at least one piece of plastic.
One of the top items collected during beach cleanups is drinking straws. These are particularly abundant on beaches where restaurants overlook the water. How can you help keep these plastic straws out of the ocean? Get in the habit of saying, “No straw, please” when you order a drink. If you really need a straw, bring your own washable straw when dining out. And check out http://onelessstraw.org!
Scientists estimate that in 2010 alone, between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic washed into the ocean. This number is expected to increase each year. What can you do to reduce your contribution to this problem?
Plastic shopping bags are often not recycled (have you ever seen one blowing down the street, or tangled in a bush, or floating in the water?) Reusable shopping bags (especially those made of cotton) are sturdy, strong, washable and don’t contribute to plastic pollution. Can you train yourself to remember your reusable bags when shopping? Keeping a stack in the car is a good start!
How times have changed. We used to have washable, reusable containers for portable lunches. Today, our convenience lunches are wrapped (sometimes more than once!) in plastic. Can you reduce your plastic waste by taking a few minutes to pack lunches in washable containers?
This infographic explains why those cool, wicking athletic clothes might not be so “cool” for the environment
If your deodorant (or other personal care products) contains polyethylene, that’s plastic. Why is plastic in there? Sometimes plastics are added as exfoliants, but they are also inexpensive fillers. What happens to these plastics? Ultimately most end up going down the drain (when we bathe or wash our clothes). Let’s try and keep these microplastics out of the waste stream by selecting products that do not contain polyethylene. 
The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project’s analysis of hundreds of water samples from around the state reveals that one liter of ocean water contains an average of almost 8 pieces of plastic (most of which is microscopic). Some samples contained more than 50 pieces of plastic, most of which are fibers. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odflE7K69Ng This video shows how easily weathered plastic (found on the beach) crumbles into plastic dust.
Polystyrene foam cups and plastic stirrers are common in workplaces. Consider bringing your own washable hot beverage cup from home, or see if your workplace will replace their foam cups with washable ones. Using  washable spoons rather than plastic stirrers will also cut down on plastic waste. 
This map shows the distribution and abundance of microplastics in Florida’s coastal waters. Many thanks to the 150+ Florida Microplastic Awareness Project volunteers around the state who contributed to the collection of these data. 
Do you know what you are wearing? Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, polypropylene and microfiber may feel soft, but they shed microscopic plastic fibers when washed. Those fibers are ending up in the environment, especially in our lakes and ocean. They are eaten (either deliberately or accidentally) by aquatic organisms.
Petroleum-based plastics never biodegrade into their constituent elements. This means that every piece of plastic ever made still exists (much of it is now a multitude of tiny pieces of plastic). Every day the amount of plastic waste increases. The term “Anthropocene” has been proposed for our current geologic era because  of the layer of plastic debris expected to be formed. 
What's the Big Deal About Microplastics? Did you miss the webinar, “What’s the Big Deal About Microplastics?” earlier this month? No worries--you can watch the recording here. We hope everyone will continue to share the messages posted this month—and maybe you’ll come up with others of your own!

 

The Florida Microplastic Awareness Project

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Follow our Florida Microplastic Awareness Project page and join our group on Facebook to learn more about news, training sessions and volunteer opportunities!

TAKE THE PLEDGE to reduce your contribution to microplastic pollution