I was reading an article where the author claimed that one of the interesting things that would define the era of Homo sapiens is the amount of plastic waste they have produced since the beginning of the industrial era amounting to about 10 billion metric tons.
The assertion seems true since the Pacific turns out to be the primary visible representation of Human culture. Researchers have found that ocean plastics account for one-tenth of the total plastic generated since the advent of plastics since 1907. The concern is that what happened to the rest nine-tenths of the plastic waste, where did it all go? The question has evolved into a plastic managing discrepancy of an order that the entire scientific world has just started to realize.
Last week, at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in San Francisco, the scientific community came up with an answer to the question. They claimed that the rest of the plastic waste, which exceeds the total gross global surface ocean plastic had been deposited in the world’s rivers.
The past report shed the presumption that rivers serve as a channel for these waste materials to deposit to ocean bodies. But the American Geophysical Union (AGU) came up with their novel theory which shows that plastic waste has remained in rivers for years making them one of the trending hotspots of plastic pollution. The model they had adopted is based on a quantitative study that demonstrated that rivers do not function solely as a medium to transport waste plastics to oceans but also behaves as a sink, especially for microplastics, which are being buried in the river beds and the floodplain sediments.
The research is led by the University of Birmingham researcher Stefan Krause as a part of the 100 Plastic Rivers Project, which aims to identify such hotspots based on river water and methods to eliminate the waste plastics from them. Once the mobile team senses any traces of plastic waste, the team sends the sample to Krause’s laboratory, who then analyses the sample to confirm the present along with any secondary particles such as microbeads, microfibres or tertiary microplastics that may have been broken into minute particles over the years.
The minute particles measure less than five millimetres in diameter and are barely visible even under a simple microscope. A recent study has yielded particles in the size range of nano, which are fatal than the traditional microparticles because of their ability to penetrate through the environment easily.
The mobile team comprised more than thousands of humans and result from the data are revealing the presence of Microplastics within these volunteers’ body, which is even more alarming. The results have deemed that plastic is in the river and waterways also getting trapped in streambeds and floodplain sediment, leaving a legacy of plastic all around the world.
Although the river plastic pollution has definitely shed light on the plastic waste present, the author argues that several parts of the planet are still left to discover the plastic leftovers, including the deep sea and the oceanic sea bed in particular. Nearly half of the plastic produced globally has densities larger than that of the water, making the oceanic bed vulnerable to these microplastics.
Various scientific reports have verified that plastic micro and nanoparticles have been found in the air, snow, the Arctic, drinking water, and even soft drinks. The studies estimate that the people in the United States of America inhales more than 70,000 microplastic particles each year. Surprisingly, that is equivalent to the number of plastic materials present in our debit card. And that too may be an inaccurate estimate because some pieces of microplastic are so minute, they are undetectable, and hence, can’t be accounted for.
Currently, around eight million metric tons of plastic penetrates the oceanic water bodies every day, including rivers. It is high time that we start acting before the plastics turn us into a legacy soon.