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Earth Science

Plastic Waste Threatens Marine Diversity 48

Rambo Tribble writes "An article in Current Biology (abstract) details the finding that minute particles of plastic waste are affecting marine worms, potentially having grave impacts on marine biodiversity (PDF) and leading to the accumulation of toxins in marine animals. 'The team found that the tiny bits of plastic, which measure 1mm or smaller, transferred pollutants and additive chemicals — such as flame-retardants — into the guts of lugworms (Arenicola marina). This process results in the chemical reaching the creatures' tissue, causing a range of biological effects such as thermal stress and the inability to consume as much sediment.' Unfortunately, policymakers have routinely treated such wastes as benign. The BBC provides more approachable coverage of the findings."
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Plastic Waste Threatens Marine Diversity

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  • Paper or plastic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KrazyDave ( 2559307 ) <htcprog@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @03:20AM (#45592511) Homepage

    In America there are tight regulations of the manufacturing, and transport on top of EPA. When you request a plastic bag, it's clean and it's fate is clean, plus we have profuse kandfill space available that is also tightly managed and regulated.

    It is the "emerging" economies led by China and India who dump unregulated waste including heavy metals and other toxins, have dirty-technolgy, and unregulated factories that spew millions of tons of untreated air pollution and who also dump millions of tons of their plastic garbage directly into our oceans.

    So you jackass hipsters at Trader Joe's keep using your filthy little burlap bags and thinking that you're making a difference while you turn a blind eye to the ecological atrocities committed by your we-are-the-world brothers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Spy Handler ( 822350 )

      Why is this modded -1 Troll? Parent is correct; in the U.S. (and I assume most other developed nations), close to 100% of plastic waste either go into a landfill or is recycled. Amount dumped into the ocean is negligible.

      • by bledri ( 1283728 )

        Why is this modded -1 Troll? Parent is correct; in the U.S. (and I assume most other developed nations), close to 100% of plastic waste either go into a landfill or is recycled. Amount dumped into the ocean is negligible.

        Because summarizing valid and semi-insightful point by calling people:

        ... jackass hipsters at Trader Joe's ...

        for the intolerable crime of:

        using ... burlap bags

        Is kindof douchey, but sadly Slashdot does not have a kind of douchey choice for the moderators.

        And then there is the point that landfills aren't really an unlimited resource, none of the articles accused the US of anything, plastic bags wash out to sea from storm drains in the US (even if other countries contribute most of the trash.) And finally, what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding? [vimeo.com]

    • by xelah ( 176252 ) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @04:56AM (#45592845)
      I bet you still wash clothes made from plastic fibres in an ordinary washing machine, though. Guess where the waste goes...
    • When you request a plastic bag, it's clean and it's fate is clean

      That's strange because the fate of those plastic bags that I see is usually groups of them wind blown against fencing, or laying in snow banks.

      Blaming the pollution problem solely on "emerging" countries is akin to giving permission to be excluded from contributing to the problem. Yes, we have EPA regulations however US companies only adhere to them when:

      A) Being out of compliance costs more than playing by the rules
      B) When there is enough certainty they will be caught

      You can thank the "jackass hipsters" fo

    • Although long, this whole article [worldwithoutus.com] is worth a read. This part is relevant...

      Just two years earlier, Moore had retired from his wood-furniture-finishing business. A lifelong surfer, his hair still ungrayed, he'd built himself a boat and settled into what he planned to be a stimulating young retirement. Raised by a sailing father and certified as a captain by the U.S. Coast Guard, he started a volunteer marine environmental monitoring group. After his hellish mid-Pacific encounter with the Great Pacific Garba

      • Thank you for sharing this.

        I worked in the solid waste industry for a few years and know first hand that a "clean fate" in a landfill is the ultimate oxymoron, particularly landfills in less populated areas.

        If I had mod points, you'd be +1 in a heartbeat.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Dr Browne said:

    "But no-one had actually shown whether chemicals could transfer from plastic when they are eaten by animals and accumulate in their bodies and reduce important functions that maintain their health."

    And I thought this to be obvious, but apparently no-one ever did the research?

    I always cringe when I see some plastic garbage outside and when you try to pick it up, it crumbles into tiny little fragments, sometimes powder-like.
    Toxic waste, I consider this.

    • Dr Browne said:

      I always cringe when I see some plastic garbage outside and when you try to pick it up, it crumbles into tiny little fragments, sometimes powder-like. Toxic waste, I consider this.

      It's "Biodegradable" . . .

    • The idea that we haven't found extraterrestrial civilizations because once they're sufficiently advanced for us to spot, they're sufficiently advanced to destroy themselves in some catastrophic explosion needs modification. Maybe it's just the accumulation of things like microscopic plastic bits, out-of-control planetary heating, mercury contamination, GMO accidents, viral epidemics, ozone destruction, ... such that they disappear in a century after making it into space—long before they have time to m
  • The food chain.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by voodoo cheesecake ( 1071228 ) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @04:54AM (#45592839)

    Some may argue that such research is pointless because pollution goes hand in hand with civilization or that we will never be able to clean up what is already out there. I disagree. Understanding how organisms are affected may give valuable insights into how pollution is and will alter the food chain. The article mentions "accumulation of toxins", this is bioaccumulation of not only different sizes and types of microplastics, it is also the bioaccumulation of the plasticizers that leach out as these microplastics degrade in a particular environment over time. Then some of these organisms are eaten by others which results in bioamplification of whatever toxins linger - mainly in fatty tissues. These organisms migrate and here you and I sit at the top of the food chain ready to devour what we assume is safe to eat. Some of the plasticizers - such as bisphenol-A (synthetic estrogen used to harden plastics) and phthalates (used to soften plastics) are well known endocrine disruptors; i.e. they mimic hormones which can alter development of offspring. Wouldn't such biological activity of these contaminants be worth studying - say in the realm of genetics - specifically epigenetics?

    Food for though. Do a load of laundry that is all 100% cotton and you end up with quite a few cotton fibers in the dryer's lint filter. Do a similar size load of clothing containing synthetic fibers and notice there is far less in the lint filter and that the fibers are considerably smaller. Do another load of synthetics and filter out all of the water drained from the washing machine and take a look at what wind up in a settling pond (unless there is a storm surge that overloads the sewage system) and eventually to the ocean.

    Not only are the toxins from microplastics a concern, but so are the fibers themselves which can block gills and also act as substrates for organisms from one environment to flourish upon, be transported upon and potentially become an invasive species in another environment resulting in loss of resources for the fishing industry rippling through the global economy.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday December 04, 2013 @07:40AM (#45593395) Homepage

    ... an organism may evolve that can digest some forms of plastics. Apparently when trees evolved lignin it was millions of years until fungi evolved the ability to digest it which caused it to build up leading to immense forest fires.

    If we're lucky something similar will happen to plastics though given there are so many types it might be wishful thinking. Of course if it did happen we might find all our shiny toys suddenly rotting like old italian cars.

    • You have the response to this wishful thinking in your very own post

      it was millions of years...

      It can take a very long time to open up new metabolic pathways.

    • I remember this was covered in the book The World Without Us. If I recall correctly it's not wishful thinking that organisms will evolve that can digest plastics but likely. The lignin that lifeforms were eventually able to digest are actually more complex than our plastics.

      One would hope that when that happens the byproducts that are released aren't too toxic to whatever other living things are still around.

  • Looks like Mr. McGuire was wrong.
  • We are currently developing bacteria that are capable of consuming plastics. Upon release into the environment, this will remediate the plastic pollution problem in no time. Whatcouldpossiblygowrong.

    Sorry about your iPhone.

  • If you have a 3D printer, please use PLA.
  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Watch how much it gets with PLA nano particles every where.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly