Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Plastic pollution doesn’t just make for an ugly beach day. It’s contaminating our food chain

There’s a big lie about plastic — that you can throw it away. But that’s not true; there is no “away.” Plastic bottles, plastic bags, snack wrappers, foam takeout containers, foam coffee cups, packing materials: these common, everyday items make up 85% of our waste stream. These items aren’t biodegradable and our ability to recycle them is limited. This societal reliance on throw-away plastic is strangling our environment — particularly our waterways. More than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans each year, where it kills animals and fouls waterways and beaches. This isn’t the work of careless litterbugs at the beach. Over 80% of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources. Even if you live inland and take care to properly dispose of your trash, there is a good chance some of your plastic waste has found its way to the sea.

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Compounding the problem is that plastics adsorb chemicals that are free-floating in the ocean, so when the plastics enter the food chain, additional toxins settle into the muscles or fat of fish — the parts that we like to eat. One of the worst offenders of plastic pollution is polystyrene, which is more commonly referred to by its Dow Chemical trademarked name, Styrofoam. It is sometimes called EPS, for expanded polystyrene, and is made into those ubiquitous white food takeout boxes. EPS is the second-most-found beach debris in Southern California, according to a recent study.

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