Answers 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.
All I seem to do at the moment is write my dissertation. A task I am sure many people have endured. As well as it crucifying a subject I was once interested in, it is all I can think about.
I dream (well…have nightmares) about microplastic pollution. Seriously.
So, because of this, I am venting (I’m sorry) all the annoying little facts about this topic that eat away at my brain, which the public are not informed about…and I wanted an excuse to make a list. You’re welcome:
Microplastics are generally defined as plastic which is smaller than 5 mm in diameter.
Microplastics (or microbeads if you prefer) don’t just come from your exfoliators. These products seem to crop up a lot but manufactured (AKA primary) microplastics can also be found in toothpaste, cleaning products like cream cleaner and used for air blasting during manufacturing of everyday items.
Secondary microplastics are those which have come from a bigger plastic source (not manufactured that size). These can accumulate wherever plastic litter is collected, such as in a landfill or in the sea. They then degrade and become smaller and smaller until they are not visible to the naked eye. In my study, I divided these into three categories: fibres, thin angular pieces and thick angular pieces.
Washing your clothes results in microplastic pollution. Plymouth University conducted a study which showed that 700,000 synthetic fibres can be released into wastewater, from one use of a domestic washing machine. (So your acrylic and polyester clothes, you’ll struggle to have a 100% cotton wardrobe).
These microplastics can enter river systems through misconnections. These are when your pipes have been misconnected to lead to the wrong sewer and therefore lead into rivers via outflow pipes. The water which would normally be routed by the foul system to your local waste water treatment works… so think twice about paddling in your local stream on a hot day.
Once ingested the plastics can then stay in an organism’s stomach, providing no nutrition and taking up room which can lead to starvation. They can also be passed up the food chain to us.
People aren’t too scared of them because they haven’t caused any significant damage to human health…but it is just a matter of time.
I also thought it would be worth mentioning that yes, I did find microplastics in a local river (Charlton Brook Sheffield) along with a shit load of…well…shit. Look at the picture I’ve included (my own) all the plastics in there are 0.3 mm – 5 mm. Got some big-ass fibres in there (and an exoskeleton which wasn’t dissolved by my concoction of death*). Are these from your clothes? Write a comment and let us know.
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.
(Illustration of Hinkley Point C nuclear station. Photograph: EDF Energy/PA)
I was reading earlier in New Scientist magazine about the introduction of head/body replacements. Weird right? Apparently by the end of 2017 there will be such a thing as a head transplant!
Yes this will be very beneficial for paralysed people, enabling them to inhabit a fully functioning body. In the future in the organ donation we will probably be given an option to donate our whole body! Basically what it says for a head transplant to happen is that they need not just your head, but also your spine (apparently all spine injuries have been solved too).
I watch a lot if Sci-Fi, yeah I’m a nerd. But what the heck, I love it. In all the stuff that I’ve seen, barely any of it matches to the gruesomeness of a head transplant. This also makes me think; if this is ok for the media to publish, then what else has been discovered that is too gruesome for the press?
I have always and will still believe that we are only told less than 10% of what actually is happening around us, plainly because sometimes the truth is too harsh (or expensive) for the public to handle. What if we cured all these diseases? How big will our population be? How much will we need to spend on infrastructure and food? Yes it is horrible to think about, but would it surprise you?
Also if head transplants happen then what next? “Designer bodies” will fit somewhere in the equation in the next 50 years, plus with the addition of Botox and face-lifts you will have cloned rich people running around the place, pushing their designer babies (by their nannys or course).
Is this progress? Or is this another breakthrough that will stop developed countries from receiving the help that they should?