Is it just a matter of time before our oceans are free from plastic?

IMG_4268.JPGAnswers to our questions often lie within nature, it is often found that we can take aspects of even the deadliest attributes of nature to improve our livelihoods. As anthropogenic activity continues to damage the environment, it is the time that we should use these aspects to help save our planet. Microplastic pollution has received a lot of attention in the media in the past couple of years, leading to the banning of the production of microbeads in the United Kingdom by 2018.  However, even with this promise from the government to reduce their effects within our marine environment, there is still a magnificent presence of small plastic particles entering our waterways from the degrading of larger plastic pieces.

Small fragments of plastic have been discovered in waterways globally (microscope image shows microplastics found in the Charlton Brook Sheffield, UK). The UK Government proposed studies have shown that negative effects on species include: the filling of the stomach with plastic leading to potential starvation, desorption of toxic chemicals from the plastic into the organism, and the transfer of these issues up the trophic levels. As a response, scientists have been searching for ways to remove microplastics within water systems, however most of the ideas will cause significant harm to biodiversity (use of fine nets and dredging).

Micro-organisms have shown to effectively remove small plastic particles from water in a controlled environment, which was reported in 2016 by a team of scientists in Japan. It was discovered that the bacteria Ideonella sakaiensis could effectively break down small plastic particles of polyethylene terephthalate (commonly referred to as PET) at 30⁰c. With what seems to be a huge breakthrough in regard to tackling this global environmental issue, there has been little information emitted from scientists since then. Can this automatically be perceived as bad news?

Although it is clear that this is impossible to replicate within the marine environment – and work with different variations of microplastic – the idea of harnessing a (questionably) natural process, and the possibility of genetic engineering to modify the micro-organism is promising. On the other hand,  these manufactures tiny lifeforms have the potential to be just as lethal as they are to be beneficial. With researcher Dr Mincer stating the experiment as “carefully done” last year, this may suggest some more time is needed for another potential breakthrough.

Overall, although the wait may be long we must cling onto this hope for the eradication of microplastic pollution. The thought of a future with clean oceans and healthy ecosystems is amazing.

 

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Is nuclear the way forward?

The United Kingdom’s sources of electricity are said to be20% reliant on atomic energy. Nuclear power has been all over the news during the past year, but is this the best direction to take for “cleaner” energy?

Nuclear energy works by using uranium as a natural heat source, an element which cannot be created, there is only so much of it on the planet. I have read various articles about how long this supply of uranium will last, an article from Scientific American states that at current rates the uranium on this planet will last us for 230 years. However, (that article was published in 2009 by the way) as the consumption rate of uranium and demand for nuclear energy increases, the amount of uranium will decrease quicker. This is not the definition of a sustainable source of energy, in fact, it is the opposite!

The new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in the UK will be up and running by 2023. The cost has risen from the original plans by £23 billion, it is now said it will cost £37 billion… That’s a hell of a lot of money to buy something when you don’t know how much it will last.

If the decisions were up to me, I would use the money to implement renewable energy using a tidal energy source. This is because the energy source is predictable; unlike solar or wind. Plus the UK is an island so there is plenty of coastal areas to put power stations. I thoroughly believe that all countries should harness their geographical location to their advantage (another example could be China using geothermal heat to conduct electricity instead of coal).

Any other opinions? I would love to hear them.

Bethan Nicole.

(Illustration of Hinkley Point C nuclear station. Photograph: EDF Energy/PA)

Preventing Plastic Pollution.

We have a tendency to ignore what we can’t see, even if it surrounds us and influences our lives on a daily basis.  It seems that we get carbon dioxide/monoxide/methane pollution awareness flying at us from left, right and centre. The same with those images with penguins with plastic six pack rings around their necks; “aww no little penguin I’ll save you by not throwing my rubbish into the sea“…  Well yes that is a good plan, especially if you live next to an open body of water, however people who this doesn’t apply to (like me) tend to ignore marine pollution and think it doesn’t apply to them.

There is more than one way of plastics entering the marine environment. Plastic bags are a good example, they are light and catch the wind easily; if a breeze catches your plastic bag and it doesn’t end up caught in a tree, it is highly likely for it to end up in a water system. Rubbish gets transported around a lot, moved from place to place providing it with a lot of opportunities to flee from the peril of the rubbish truck.

But what could I possibly do to prevent this?” I hear you all desperately shouting at your screen. I personally use my old plastic bags to put rubbish in, or alternatively to add more weight to the polyethylene death trap you can tie it into a knot. Ta Dah! Your 5 years as a scout/girl guide has finally paid off and you can save the world!

One thing we are yet to learn prevent is what happens when the plastic has entered the marine environment and begins to degrade. You may have heard about microplastics before, you may not have, but they are so so frustrating. Plastics can degrade for many many years, therefore it’s a problem for many many years, microplastics are not visible to the naked human eye, and are therefore not really mentioned much. These can then be ingested by marine wildlife and emit some nasty chemicals, which aren’t beneficial to any species.

To prevent this there isn’t really much you can do, perhaps unless you’re a boffin with stacks of dosh. But there is one thing you can do! As mentioned microplastics are a result of degrading plastic, but they can also enter the water system immediately from the use of exfoliators. Some brands such as Neutrogena, Clean and Clear and Clearasil pride themselves with cosmetic products which contain “microbeads”, this is just another word for microplastic. With others you have to look at the back of the packaging, if you see a “poly….” word don’t use it, plastic shouldn’t be in an exfoliant. Instead use something natural like sugar or salt!

Any thoughts? Please let me know below.

Bethan.

Getting back into the swing of things.

I have basically been doing nothing since December. Sure I worked for a bit, fell in love (what a soppy git) and gained weight… all while spending way too much money.

If you don’t know I withdrew from my last university course in Manchester doing Geography, and I’m starting at university again next week in my home town Sheffield doing Environmental Science. Basically because I know the city and I can’t be bothered with moving really far again, but I am staying at halls as a feeble attempt at making friends. 

Going back to my studies is so daunting as I haven’t been taught anything in almost a year. So thinking about getting organised again really terrifies me! What if I’ve forgotten how to write an essay? I can’t concentrate? I lack motivation? Plus lets face it I’m going to have to learn how to Harvard reference again. It is so odd to think that I haven’t been without education this long since I was 4… 15 years ago!

Basically I’m looking to the blogging community for a bit of encouragement. Has anyone gone back to their studies? Please tell me that it wasn’t as hard as I think it’s going to be.