Microplastics: Seeking the 'plastic score' of the food on our plates
Microplastics are everywhere, but how worried should we be? Scientists are on a mission to find out more.
Plastic from Almaciga Beach, on the north coast of the Canary Island of TenerifeMicroplastics are found everywhere on Earth, yet we know surprisingly little about what risks they pose to living things. Scientists are now racing to investigate some of the big unanswered questions.
Daniella Hodgson is digging a hole in the sand on a windswept beach as seabirds wheel overhead."Found one," she cries, flinging down her spade.She opens her hand to reveal a wriggling lugworm. Plucked from its underground burrow, this humble creature is not unlike the proverbial canary in a coal mine.
A sentinel for plastic, the worm will ingest any particles of plastic it comes across while swallowing sand, which can then pass up the food chain to birds and fish."We want to see how much plastic the island is potentially getting on its shores - so what is in the sediments there - and what the animals are eating," says Ms Hodgson, a postgraduate researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London.
"If you're exposed to more plastics are you going to be eating more plastics? What types of plastics, what shapes, colours, sizes? And then we can use that kind of information to inform experiments to look at the impacts of ingesting those plastics on different animals."
Image captionLugworm living in the sand in Great Cumbrae, ScotlandImage captionThe beach at the town of MillportMicroplastics are generally referred to as plastic smaller than 5mm, or about the size of a sesame seed. There are many unanswered questions about the impact of these tiny bits of plastic, which come from larger plastic debris, cosmetics and clothes. What's not in dispute is just how far microplastics have travelled around the planet in a matter of decades.
"They're absolutely everywhere," says Hodgson, who is investigating how plastic is making its way into marine ecosystems."Microplastics can be found in the sea, in freshwater environments in rivers and lakes, in the atmosphere, in food."
Multi-million-dollar questionThe island of Great Cumbrae off Scotland's Ayrshire coast is a favourite haunt of day trippers from nearby cities like Glasgow. A ferry ride away from the town of Largs, it's a retreat for cyclists and walkers, as well as scientists working at the marine station on the island. On a boat trip off the bay to see how plastic samples are collected from the waves, a dolphin joins us for a while and swims alongside.
Image captionPlastic collected on Great CumbraeEven in this remote spot, plastic pollution is visible on the beach. Prof David Morritt who leads the Royal Holloway University research team points out blue twine and bits of plastic bottles that wash up with the seaweed at Kames Bay. Where it's coming from is the"multi-million-dollar question", he says, holding up a piece of blue string.
"We've just been looking at some of the plastic washed up on the strand line here and you can tell fairly obviously it's fishing twine, or it's come from fishing nets. Sometimes it's much more difficult. By identifying the type of polymer, the type of plastic it is and then by matching that with the known uses of those polymers you can sometimes make an educated guess of where that plastic's likely to have come from."Read more: BBC News (UK) »
Beirut explosion: Officials put under house arrest as at least 135 die and 5,000 hurt
The cabinet orders port officials involved in storing or guarding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to be put under house arrest.
Can see them? Not micro.
Italy proposes price cuts on plastic-free food and toiletriesDispenser systems and incentives to give up cars planned under measures to halt environmental damage
How your tights are becoming trendy, and green‘We refer to hosiery as the single-use plastic of the textile industry’ Green tights. Andrew Aguecheek eat your heart out
NHS vows to cut single-use plastic by up to halfLast year the NHS bought 163 million plastic cups, 16 million plastic cutlery pieces, 15 million straws and two million stirrers. Thanks for that little bit of useless information
More than 20 arrested after animal rights activists 'shut down' Billingsgate Fish MarketProtesters attempt to stop traffic entering market at ‘vigil’ for fish killed by food industry This is getting out of hand protesting about climate change is important but it's attracting idiots aswell Great news! Lock the crusties up and give them showers!
How glorious is it to find lost things? The relief gives me the high of a marathon runner | Hannah Jane ParkinsonThen there is finding as discovery – stumbling across something you didn’t know you were seeking
Diners challenged to take on world's biggest plate of nachos with 15k caloriesSo far no one has been able to finish the mega nacho meal at The Smoke Pitt in Northampton in under an hour Coronary on a plate, ambulance on stand by? Whoever eats this will probably already be massively overweight and when it becomes a health risk they'll be in the papers, including the Mirror, demanding NHS fits a gastric band or just as likely suing for not helping them lose weight before their cardiac attack.