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A Little Truth About Microplastics


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Issues & Insights

While most Californians sleep at night, there must be a group somewhere that stays up thinking of something else to ban. How else to explain the unrelenting march of prohibitions, from single-use plastic bags – directly approved by voters – to plastic straws, to gasoline-powered lawn equipment and eventually the sale of new automobiles that burn the same fossil fuel?

The sleepless evenings have kept the state’s war on plastics burning hot. A campaign to at least limit the volume of microplastics – beads smaller than 5 millimeters across produced by the breakdown of plastic products – that end up in the sea is catching fire. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“California aims to sharply limit the spiraling scourge of microplastics in the ocean, while urging more study of this threat to fish, marine mammals and potentially to humans, under a plan a state panel approved” on Feb. 23.

“The Ocean Protection Council voted to make California the first state to adopt a comprehensive plan to rein in the pollution.”

Sounds serious, that “threat” to marine life and humans. Are things that bad? To quote John Lennon, “just gimme some truth” about microplastics.

What happens to the microplastics that end up at sea?

“Over time microplastic particles appear to be disappearing from the ocean’s surface,” says environmental writer Ronald Bailey, basing his comments on a peer-reviewed study in a scientific journal. “Plastics are broken up over time into ever tinier pieces by the action of the waves and ultraviolet sunlight.” 

Where are microplastic particles coming from?

A 2015 study in Science estimated the “flow of plastic waste from 20 populous coastal countries,” says Bailey. The U.S. is at the bottom of the list, “dumping less than 1% of the plastics that end up in the oceans annually.”

No surprise that China is the “leader” of ocean plastic polluters – it accounts for 28% of all “plastics thrown into the oceans each year.” About 60% is “discarded by the fast growing East Asian economies of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.” The inescapable fact is much of the world outside the West doesn’t practice disciplined waste disposal hygiene.:snip:

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