An article from Mother Nature Network (MNN.com) just came across my email last week. It was written by Christian Cortoneo, who reports that a scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey recently completed a study that found “90 percent of rainwater samples from eight different locations along the Rockies contained plastics.”
What’s even more surprising is that some of these sites are not frequented by people at all.
“In fact, one such site, dubbed “CO98” by researchers, is perched high in the mountains at 10,400 feet above sea level.
Where are these plastics coming from then? It appears that these micro-plastics are falling from the skies. Cornoneo states “… tiny plastic particles are shed into the atmosphere before hitching a ride back down on a raindrop.”
The USGS study was originally focusing on nitrogen pollution levels in water between Boulder and Denver, Colorado, but it was the amount of plastic that grabbed their attention. Nitrogen pollution is not only caused by agriculture practices but also by overuse of residential fertilizers.
Researchers did find that there were more microplastics over urban areas than rural, which is not surprising.
“More plastic fibres were observed in samples from urban sites than from remote, mountainous sites,” researchers note in the paper. “However, frequent observation of plastic fibres in washout samples from the remote site CO98 at Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park suggests that wet deposition of plastic is ubiquitous and not just an urban condition.”
This doesn’t mean you will see plastic bottles or bags falling from the sky, or that you will be pelted with small pieces of plastic. These are microscopic pieces of plastic that need to be seen with a microscope. Scientists did find plastic strands, like colorful worms, in bright rainbow of colors from purple to silver and red. They report that blue was the most common.
Cotroneo also reports that according to a study by Canada’s University of Victoria, humans inadvertently consume 50,000 particles of microplastics every year! The study suggests that we are not just eating and breathing plastics, we are soaking in it, too.
“I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye,” one of the researchers, USGS Research Chemist, Gregory Wetherbee tells The Guardian newspaper. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.”
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.
10 ways you can help reduce plastic waste
1. Stop using plastic straws. Carry your own aluminum or bamboo straws and tell your wait staff you won’t need one.
2. Use reusable grocery bags. Bring your own bags while shopping.
3. Give up chewing gum. Chewing gum was originally made from tree sap, a natural rubber. Now, it is a synthetic – a plastic.
4. Buy boxes, not bottles. Items such as laundry detergent, dish soap, hand soap and other such cleaners are now sold in cardboard boxes, which can be recycled.
5. Buy from bulk bins, and bring your own container. Rice, pasta, beans, nuts, cereal and granola can now be purchased from bins rather than unnecessary packaging.
6. Reuse glass containers. Spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, salsa, and applesauce and others come in large jars that are easy to clean and reuse.
7. Reusable bottles and cups. Bottled water produces at least 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year and requires 47 million gallons of oil to produce, according to Food & Water Watch. If you are not going to stop buying them, at least keep them and refill them. Take your own cup to the coffee shop, to the office and to the next meeting. The average American officeworker uses about 500 disposable cups per year, so be the one to use none.
8. Bring your own container. When going out to eat, bring your own container for leftovers.
9. Don’t use plasticware. Simply keep a camping set of flatware in the glove compartment, or go to the thrift store and get a set drop them in a clean sock and put them in the car. Works great!
10. Do a neighborhood litter pickup. Call your neighbors and plan a neighborhood litter pickup. Get the kids involved. Go down by the nearby stream, get the trash out of the bushes. After all, what’s on the grounds – is in the water!