The Plastic in Our Food Chain

If the phrase “You are what you eat” has any truth, then we should be worried.  Our food chain increasingly includes plastic.  I recently blogged about the plastic in your bottled water.

The industrial world casts a ridiculous amount of plastic into the environment, from nano-sized particles to macro-sized garbage.  The theme of this year’s Earth Day (April 22) is “End Plastic Pollution.”

  • More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. The total produced in the past decade exceeds the total produced in the preceding century.
  • Since WWII, more than 5 billion tons of plastic have been produced. That includes enough to cover our entire planet in clingwrap.
  • Plastic waste is now present in every location on Earth. Granules have even been found frozen into the Arctic Sea, once considered pristine.

(Data from Environmental Health News and The Guardian.)

Environmental plastic is eaten by fish and birds.  In marine environments, “plastic debris is ingested by hundreds of species of organisms, from zooplankton to baleen whales.” (Science Advances)  A recent beached whale was found to have 64 pounds of plastic and waste in its stomach.

When humans eat the meat of these fish and animals, we accumulate plastic in our systems as well.  More than 90 percent of the population has measurable levels of these compounds in their bodies. (EHN)  Chemicals in plastics have been shown to affect heart disease, diabetes and hormone production.

Scientists have investigated what makes animals eat plastic instead of their normal food.  U.S. researchers discovered that marine-seasoned microplastics actually emit a scent that resembles a marine infochemical.  This tricks susceptible marine wildlife into thinking they are eating their normal prey.

The researchers used an Agilent/HP gas chromatograph, sulfur chemiluminescence detector and column to analyze the chemical odor extractions.

Next week, Agilent is hosting a series of live webcasts on “Microplastics, from Beach to Bench: Complete Characterization and Chemical Identification Using Mobile FTIR and FTIR Imaging Technologies.”   The speaker will be Prof. Jes Vollersten, professor of Environmental Engineering at Aalborg University, Denmark.  You can register here.

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