Plastic pollution makings its way to the oceans is causing development issues in sea life (IMPACT) leading to lower biodiversity and aquaculture yields (STATE) due to the micro-particles of plastic that are disrupting organisms’ biological processes (PRESSURE). A research team in Northern Ireland exposed blue mussels to doses of polyethylene micro-particles (INDICATOR OF PRESSURE) over a 52-day period and identified that the mussels were unable to adhere to underwater surfaces when just half the pressure required to dislodge normal mussels was applied (Green, et al. 2019). These polyethylene micro-particles not only come from the demand for various petroleum-based plastics for things like bags, electronics, containers, and other products (DRIVING FORCE) but even from biodegradable polylactic acids as well. Reduced grip can lead to mussels being washed away by waves or strong tides, leading to reduced yields from aquaculture (INDICATOR OF IMPACT). Increased use of plastics and falling recycling rates (INDICATOR OF DRIVING FORCE) will lead to more microplastics entering the ocean which will lead to greater exposure amounts of polyethylene micro-particles (INDICATOR OF IMPACT) and decrease mussel numbers (INDICATOR OF STATE) that help provide habitat for other marine animals and plants as well.
Figure 1. Impacts of Microplastics on Mytilus edulis
Source: (Green, et al. 2019).
Human’s need for clean, affordable, and lightweight products that can store, transport, and be utilized in various ways has led to a large dependence on petroleum-based plastics, especially single-use plastics. A potential way to avoid the environmental damages from plastics can be seen in bioplastics. While still an emerging field, bioplastics are fully biodegradable and made from vegetable products typically. Switching to bioplastics can help avoid these issues while still getting the benefits seen from plastic products (RESPONSE). With only 1% of the global market, bioplastics have a long way to go to replace uses of plastics, but as environmental issues become more important to the public, this is the direction that will be required to avoid the impacts from difficult to manage micro-plastics (McKinney, et al. 2019, 514-515).
With the various environmental, economic, and social issues that plastics create, at what point do we require the use of bioplastics only (RESPONSE) and move away from petroleum-based products completely?
Author: Logan Callen
Green, Dannielle S, Thomas J. Colgan, Richard C Thompson, and James C Carolan. 2019. “Exposure to microplastics reduces attachment strength and alters the haemolymph proteome of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis).” Environmental Pollution 246: 423-434. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2018.12.017.
McKinney, Michael L., Robert M. Schoch, Logan Yonavjak, and Grant A. Mincy. 2019. Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.