Microplastics can accumulate in the food chain
“In the environment, microplastics act like a foreign body with toxins. It contains contaminants like softening agents, plasticiers and flame retardants. At the same time, the particles pick up pollutants from the environment. There is a risk that microplastics can accumulate in the food chain,” said Sandra Schöttner, a marine expert from Greenpeace.
This assumption is based on a new Greenpeace report that contain results from recent field and laboratory studies about the intake, concentration and effects of microplastics and associated pollutants in the environment.
Scientists have long proven the existence of microplastics in the food chain; not only in zooplankton, but also in commercial fish species like tuna, cod, mackerel, mussels and brown shrimp. The presence of microplastics can lead to negative effects that are both physical and chemical [biological] For example, they can cause inflammation in the intestinal tract or affect the digestion or reproductive behaviour. “So far, there has been no evidence that the plastic particles can also enter body tissues. However, caution should exercised when consuming mussels or prawns,” said Schöttner.
Banning the manufacture of microplastics for industrial use
A Greenpeace expert said that the research on microplastics is still in its infancy, especially with regards to the possible consequences for human health and the environment. The independent environmental organisation calls on politicians to minimise the risk to people and the environment by choosing to err on the side of caution: “As a first simple step, the German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks should follow Britain’s example and prohibit microplastics in consumer goods that enter in the wastewater every day, particularly with regards to cosmetics, and washing and cleaning agents.”
In scrubs, shampoos and scouring items, small plastic spheres are used as abrasive or binding agents. So far, the industry has eluded the implementation of a legal standard by having individual phase-out plans. This summer, Greenpeace had interviewed the world’s 30 largest cosmetics manufacturers on their quality and level of the voluntary commitment. None of them met Greenpeace's criteria.
Microplastics have a diameter or length of less than five millimetres. They are created either as larger pieces of plastic break down into smaller pieces due to exposure to the elements, or as part of a manufacturing process. They can pass undetected through sewage treatment plants. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans, where they progressively break down into smaller particles. Although there is no reliable data about the precise amount of microplastics currently in the oceans, their presence in remote areas like the Arctic and Antarctic means that the scourge of microplastic is indeed widespread.
More information: www.greenpeace.de
Download the English report: plastics-in-seafood-technical-review.pdf