Oat flatty and a Tuna Sandwich
Microplastics are EVERYWHERE1. And I’m going to back this up with REAL scientific research because why believe something on the media these days, right?
We have all heard or seen the rushing inflation of information around plastics vs our environment, arising on all forms of media platforms and even just popping up in conversations with the dude that always gets a coffee at the same time as you from the local café.
Let’s stay here…in the café, with the dude with the same morning schedule as you. You go up to order your coffee, and shoot! You’ve forgotten your keep cup you paid a couple of hours’ worth of work for. You apologise and order your oat flatty BUT WITH NO LID PLEASE. As you’re leaning on the bar leaner you reassure yourself that at least you’re not getting a lid, plus you usually use your keep cup anyway, so there’s no harm being done. As you walk out of the café with your very full coffee cup WITH NO LID, you give the local dude a lil smile and head to the car. You take a quick sip before you get in your car, put your seat belt on and drive off to work. Relaxing into the drive, you go to take a sip of your coffee and it spills alllll down that new white top you bought last week. Lucky it wasn’t hugely expensive and another one can be delivered in a couple of days.
You get home from your long day at work and go to put your top in the washing machine to get out that horrid coffee stain. An hour later you pull out the white top to find that the bleach stain-removing spray you put on the stain before the washing machine handled the rest worked! YAY!
Microplastics are EVERYWHERE. Starting with your coffee this morning. Thank you for not getting a lid and you can’t remember your keep cup EVERY day, but you may be provoked to make more of a conscious effort… Most coffee cups are lined with a thin plastic that when hot contents are poured into the cup can release up to 25,000 micro-plastic pieces over 15 minutes (about the duration of the car ride to work)2. Unfortunately, the majority of these harsh plastics are going straight into your body, and what doesn’t, goes into the ground because that cup would’ve had to go into the general rubbish to one day end up in a landfill. And that top that you discarded some of the microplastics from the takeaway cup into (luckily that mouthful didn’t end up in your body knowing what you know now), that top didn’t need anymore microplastics. Yes, fortunately for you, those microplastics aren’t going into the temple you may associate with your body. Though unfortunately, it is going into the temple we associate as our home, the earth, Papatūānuku (mother earth). And ‘she’ doesn’t want those nasty microplastics messing with the very nature of her biology, so that she can keep herself healthy, while too providing a home for us.
Man-made fibres, especially polyester have rocketed in production, nearly doubling in the last 15years. For those that need a historical event to register to the referred timeframe- since the release of “Now That’s What I Call Music! 23”, and “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira. Which doesn’t seem like that long ago! We can all admit this was a pivotal moment in history, both Shakiras’ hips and the increased demand in the fashion industry and plastic production. Did you know this specific material is made of petroleum! And is a form of plastic. I won’t veer into the depths of obtaining petroleum itself, assuming we all understand the scale of damage resulting from the petroleum refinery process 3. Just like that white top you spilt coffee on this morning, the majority of our clothes are made of synthetic materials and are actually plastic! So when you harmlessly chucked your top in the washing machine, without realising, you were sending microplastics vicariously into a birds stomach.
“How would microplastics get from my washing machine into a birds stomach??”
For starters that stain-removing spray may contain certain chemicals that are actually also plastic, as well as your laundry detergent4. All while that’s swishing around in the washing machine, your white top swishing around with it is releasing tiny synthetic fibres (plastic). Which then gets drained out of the machine and into our wastewater ways. For every location, the journey and destination of your wastewater is varied, but the majority will go through wastewater treatment where some plastics will be caught, though a fair portion will sneak through and get put back into our environment/ocean. How much washing do you do a week? What percentage of your clothes are made from man-made synthetic materials (plastic)? What is in your laundry powder?
It’s a lot to digest, comprehending the many different processes in which you are innocently contributing to the plastic problem. It is also a lot to digest for our marine life…literally! In short, bivalves (such as mussels) filter water, filtering through microplastics, they’re then eaten by a larger fish, which are eaten by even larger fish, such as a tuna say5, and then that tuna ends up in that sandwich you bought at the café this morning with your coffee. Or if that tuna doesn’t get to eat that smaller fish, a bird might! And that’s how a part of your new white top might end up in a birds stomach6. So you’ve just put harsh chemicals in the form of plastics in your temple via the coffee and your morning tea sandwich!! Let alone the microplastics going into the environment and affecting the larger picture.
Something big needs to change! Currently, all we can do is work on an individual level then work our way up into saving our environment and our bodies. Clothing/fashion is an industry we all contribute to, and a great place to start your heroic venture of saving the world! Next time you are looking for a new T-shirt, first ask yourself…do I NEED this? What material is this fabric made out of, is it synthetic or plant-based (like cotton, linen, hemp7)? You could even look into the ethics behind the brand, where and who makes this product? Is it made with Aroha? How will the product get from the field to my letterbox? Are you supporting a brand you believe in? Trust me, your body and our earth will thank you in ways you may not be able to identify.
There are many other avenues on the impacts of the fast fashion industry on the ocean and as well as other issues, such as ethical practice and further environmental impacts, that I can’t even begin to touch on with the capacity to express these problems with the depth they require.
As a marine biologist and ocean lover, it distresses me on an abyss level to limitedly speak on behalf of our marine environment in regards to the damage we are doing. With insight and my intention on keeping this piece light-hearted, flowy and educational, I hold optimism in that you will make more conscious choices and further your understanding beyond this blog.
Happy living, happy shopping and happy washing!
How you can do your part!
- Buy and shop clothing made from plant-based materials7
- Support brands that are adopting sustainable and ethical practices
- Use natural, plant-based laundry products/everyday products. Check the label!
- Or even better make your own!
- Do your own research, there are references to a few good scientific journals and websites below!
- Spread the word, how can one make a change if they’re unaware of the problem!?
Shahul Hamid, F., Bhatti, M. S., Anuar, N., Anuar, N., Mohan, P., & Periathamby, A. (2018). Worldwide distribution and abundance of microplastic: how dire is the situation?. Waste Management & Research, 36(10), 873-897.
Ranjan, V. P., Joseph, A., & Goel, S. (2021). Microplastics and other harmful substances released from disposable paper cups into hot water. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 404, 124118.
Carbery, M., O'Connor, W., & Palanisami, T. (2018). Trophic transfer of microplastics and mixed contaminants in the marine food web and implications for human health. Environment international, 115, 400-409.
Hardesty, B. D., Harari, J., Isobe, A., Lebreton, L., Maximenko, N., Potemra, J., ... & Wilcox, C. (2017). Using numerical model simulations to improve the understanding of micro-plastic distribution and pathways in the marine environment. Frontiers in marine science, 4, 30.
Laitala, K., Klepp, I. G., & Henry, B. (2018). Does use matter? Comparison of environmental impacts of clothing based on fiber type. Sustainability, 10(7), 2524.