I’M WRITING about plastic waste again. The issue is not just about pollution, flooding and clogging of canals anymore, but on the safety of the food we eat. Plastic waste is in our food. It is being eaten by fish. Microplastics have been found also in salt and even in our drinking water.
And it’s not only fish that eats plastic. A study done in British Columbia (B.C.) in Canada states that an average of eight plastic microfibers per oysters or clams was also found (take note “tahong” eaters). As discovered by researchers on Canada's west coast, most shellfish contain plastic microfibers, regardless of whether they're wild or farmed.
How was the study conducted? In 2016, the researchers planted thousands of oysters and clams along the coastline of B.C.'s Strait of Georgia. The shellfish were left to soak in the seawater for three months, where they absorbed whatever was in their surroundings. Then they were collected, dissolved in chemicals, and filtered. The result? An average of eight plastic microfibers was found in each bivalve and the residual plastic particles were gathered for further analysis.
Where are these plastics coming from? According to the study, a significant source of these microplastics appears to be laundry. Every load of synthetic clothing empties an estimated 1.7 grams of microfibers into the water stream, and these are not filtered out at treatment plants. The microplastics in drinking water are also suspected to be coming from laundry.
Canada’s water bodies are cleaner than ours. Just look at the volume of garbage that is washed along the Manila Bay coastline in Roxas Boulevard after a storm. So I would presume, sans a detailed study, that the oysters and clams harvested along our coastlines also have microplastics.
Here’s another unforeseen problem caused by plastic waste. They carry non-native species in the world's oceans. Between 2012 and 2017, scientists documented nearly 300 species of marine animals arriving alive in North America and Hawaii on hundreds of vessels, buoys, crates, and many other objects released into the ocean by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.They survive the long journey because plastic is non-biodegradable. Once these non-native species enters another ecosystem and multiplies, the local species are affected.
Now for a bit of good news. Kenya, a country in Africa, enacted the world's strictest ban on plastic bags. Reports say that it took ten years and three attempts to pass the legislation, but they did it. The law prohibits the carrying, manufacturing and importation of plastic bags. Fines range from $19,000 to $38,000, with possible four-year jail terms. All travelers are required to leave their plastic bags at the airport and residents are encouraged to drop off old bags at local grocery stores for collection.
There are about 100 million plastic bags a year that are given out in Kenya. Their Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources said that the ban is meant to prevent the blockage of sewerage and water drainage infrastructure causing floods during the raining season. The Ministry also said that the inability of plastic bags to decompose affects soil quality and damage ecosystems and biodiversity. Animals also die after consuming plastic material and air pollution is emitted plastic is burned in open air. As alternative, Kenyans use everything from cloth bags to banana leaves or any container available.
Published in the SunStar Pampanga newspaper on October 13, 2017.
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