You’ve eaten a credit card this week

One study shows that each person swallows enough plastic each week to produce a credit card. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

Dr. Sherri Mason is passionate about studying (and eliminating) plastics pollution in the environment in general, and in the Great Lakes in particular. She has a lot to study.

Unlike researchers who are dealing with rare or unusual substances, some of them microscopic, some which are only measurable in parts per million or parts per billion, plastic is everywhere. It can be found in the most remote part of Lake Superior and in every stream and tributary that flows into the Great Lakes.

The creatures that live in the water swallow plastics regularly both accidentally or on purpose. Creatures that live near the water swallow plastics as well, and that includes you and me as well as ducks, raccoons, and other wildlife.

Scientists who study ancient geology have given prehistory time periods specific names. The dinosaurs thrived during the Mesozoic Era. The time period when humans as well as other mammals evolved is called the Pleistocene. Some are now saying a new era is underway and should be called the “Plasticene,” a subversion of the words plastic and scene or just call it the plastics era, which started in the middle of the 20th century. That’s when widespread use of plastic products grew exponentially and shows few signs of slowing.

Since the 1950s enough plastic has been produced to cover the entire state of Michigan with almost three feet of plastic. Most of that plastic is still just “out there,” according to Mason.

“Only 11% has been recycled, 15% has been incinerated and maybe a third of it is still in use. The rest is still in the environment,” she said.

In some of Dr. Mason’s early work, she researched the amount of microplastics in drinking water from municipalities that source their water from the Great Lakes, as well as in products produced with this water – like beer. Those initial studies didn’t find any plastic in Great Lakes’ regional beers, but that’s changed. More recent studies has found plastics in both bottled water and beer.

If you are alive, you are ingesting plastic in an amazing amount. Most of what is going down your gullet is termed “microplastics,” which are particles less than 5 millimeters in length. Many microplastic particles are much smaller; most are fibers from “plastic clothes” such as fleece.

This may seem an insignificant amount, but another study showed each person swallows enough plastic each week to produce a credit card.  Mastercard sandwich anyone?

Luckily, most plastic is non-toxic, but it’s still worrisome. I’m not advocating restrictions on plastic use. It won’t happen and realistically, shouldn’t happen. But responsible use for everyone includes both recycling and proper disposal.  Chew on that – oh, you already are!

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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