There are microplastics in food, and indeed in the air we breathe. Rebecca Moore is an award winning student whose microplastic study made the press when she found plastic in ALL food sources she sampled. It is young people like Rebecca that totally inspire me and give me hope about our planet and our future. I caught up with her to get some insight into what she found and what she thinks the solutions are.
Microplastic in food: I tested mussels from all main supermarkets and found plastic in ALL of them
I investigated microplastic in food, namely the abundance in blue mussels cultured for human consumption. All mussels were produced in the UK and all the mussels I sampled were contaminated with plastic, around 11 pieces per individual mussel. It is likely our plastic waste is now entering our food chain and being retained in the body. Further research is needed. (Clare: As discussed in the recent Health Summit). Plastics like bottles and bags are more commonly spoken about than microplastics, however microplastics pose just as big of threat and therefore is important to be talked about which is why I decided to focus on them for my research.
The biggest concern
My personal biggest concern is our future generations continuing to consume microplastics without knowing what the consequences may be. It is currently discussed that microplastics have negative effects on small species like fish, therefore it may be likely that ingesting microplastics may have negative effects on our health too. Current issues encountered by contaminated species include deterioration of health, whether it be lack of appetite, internal blockages or the possibility of chemical additives leaching into the body after absorption. This need a lot more in-depth research.
Amoung my friends and I, we have a lot of concerns, especially lack of action from politicians:
The main concern was for plastic pollution affecting local and national wildlife. Having lived in Morecambe it is not uncommon to go for a walk down the beach and be greeted by plastic, this is likely to be ingested by sea birds among other species living here. It is also suggested that plastic litter could cause a safety risk for children playing on the beach, a cut from a sharp piece of plastic could injure a child and so beach cleans would be a huge benefit.
The second concern was for the lack of urgency on politicians part. There are vast amounts of evidence suggesting the negative effects on multiple different species so it is difficult to understand why plastic pollution is not being taken seriously yet. Although the 5p bag charges was a good start, it is not enough to tackle the problem as a whole. Laws around plastic should become firmer in the way that littering should be heavily punished and recycling should be positively acknowledged.
The final concern lays with retail shop plastic. It becomes very difficult to live as plastic free as you can when multiple different retailers continue to use single use plastics despite the demand not too. This plastic is likely to be thrown, not recycled. Landfill will continue to expand and eventually we will run out of space to house our litter. In the case of supermarkets, it would be a good idea to replace own branded items with less single use plastics options. People expressed interest into this and would consider buying these plastic free alternatives, showing that the market and demand for plastic free is there.
My message to the Government
What will it take for the government to take plastic pollution seriously? There is an endless amount of information that suggests that plastic causes negative effects for all species, and yet we continue to mass produce it. Modern day technology has come up with multiple alternative materials (bamboo, hemp) so why has this not been fully utilised yet?
I also believe that big companies such as Coca Cola should be issued a charge for using single use plastics for their products when other alternative methods are available, this may make companies reconsider using plastic in the first place.
I do believe that young people are engaged in solutions.
I think that people are starting to realise that not a lot is going to happen right now that will dramatically reduce plastic production and usage and that young people can make a difference by making small changes in their personal life. This may be buying a reusable bottle, or bag. Buying a bamboo toothbrush or sanitary wear. Although small changes, these items make a big difference in the demand for plastic as more people continue swap plastic for alternative materials. Until the government begins to make the changes needed, we must continue to campaign for a change for our future planet and hope that one day they will listen.
It is about time something changed
The ocean has been around long before humans, and yet we are the main cause of its destruction. Our actions alone have contributed to coral bleaching, ocean acidification and the rising of sea levels and temperatures. Our actions have damaged the environment and that is shocking. We have over fished our seas and continue to deteriorate the health of our ocean by continuing to pollute it with plastic. We have not respected our oceans, or any environment for that matter. Its about time something changed.
The ocean connects people around the world, it feeds billions of people and yet we take it for granted like it is an unlimited resource for us to use. This resource is limited and one day the ocean will not be able to sustain the human population as well continue to pollute an already fragile environment.
People inspire me
I am inspired because I am worried, whether that is still classed as inspiration I am not sure. I am worried that we are still producing large amounts of plastic without considering the long-term effects. However, I am inspired by the passion shown by local people about plastic pollution and how that is changing their personal behaviour. I am inspired when I see petitions and protests demanding change because it gives me faith in humanity. Although we have polluted our planet, there are people out there who care enough to try and fix it and I think that is amazing
How to cope with ‘eco-anxiety’
I have had a lot of advice over the years, but I reckon the best advice is not to become overwhelmed with whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s a course, or work or literally anything, take things one step at a time. As long as you do your best and you’re proud then everything is good.
In relation to plastic, the topic is very overwhelming. It is difficult to reduce microplastic in ocean, it can seem hopeless when you always try to do your bit for the environment when it feels like the government and other bodies are not doing the same. It can become hopeless when you think nothing you’re doing personally will make a big impact but you have to believe that it does and keep motivated. Try and motivate others too into helping the environment. If large numbers of people have the same mindset it is likely to catch on and hopefully recycling and reducing plastic usage will be a lot more common. (Clare: Ripple Effect! Such great advice)
Start with Why
To help deal with overwhelm, I ask myself why I am doing said activity. At university I became very disheartened at times, always asking myself why am I doing this, it’s too hard, it’s not for me, the usual. Many times I considered giving up as I was not the smartest in the class or was not getting high grades. But to stay motivated I would ask myself what the bigger picture is, and why I am actually doing it.
The bigger picture is that I am not doing this for myself but for future conservation and the affected species which cannot speak for themselves. I am doing this so I can get involved with conservation and hopefully try and make a difference. I failed many exams and assignments, but you have to keep going. It was difficult, but you have to keep your head down and keep pushing on. Now, I have finished my degree with a 2:1, which is higher than I was aimed for. I was awarded Student of The Year and are currently starting my next journey as a STEM AMBASSADOR, which is very exciting. Don’t give up no matter how hard it gets, there is no shame in getting overwhelmed. Just take a step back and think about the bigger picture and what you are working towards and hopefully that will make everything a little easier.
Book / Film recommendations
I have been studying for the last few years so have not found time for leisure reading, as much as I would have liked to. I am currently reading Changing Fortunes which shows how the perception of whales has changed over the years from excessive commercial hunting to whale watching tours. I have collected a lot of marine books which I intend to read now I have more free time. As for films, all of David Attenborough’s documentaries, they are golden.
Now I have completed my degree I am going to spend some time travelling and conserving marine life, hopefully do some more research here and there. Previously I have been lucky enough to go on conservation trips to Madagascar and The Gambia and I would love the opportunity to continue to do so. I would love for the opportunity to be able to work in Morecambe’s future Eden Project too.