If you recently had a discussion with someone about plastic, you might have heard them say “plastic is everywhere!”. Plastic is on the ground, in waterways, in our planet’s oceans, and almost every object we use has some level of plastic in it. Is this really true, however? Has plastic become so pervasive that it has literally entered every space of our planet? With the results of US Geological Survey researcher Gregory Wetherbee’s recent discovery, the answer is clearly becoming “yes”.
Wetherbee was analyzing collected samples of freshly fallen rainwater gathered high up on the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and discovered microplastic fibers in the samples. At OkStraw paper straws, we are alarmed to hear the extent to which plastic is contaminating our planet. When was the last time you’ve heard someone talk about paper straws washing up ashore? Probably not as recently as you’ve heard about plastic straws, and those are only visible pieces of plastic.
Wetherbee’s discovery of microscopic plastic fibers in a rainwater sample collected from the Rockies is not the first time that microplastics were found in remote locations. Microplastics were found in the Pyrnees Mountains, in British rivers, and American groundwater. If the discovery of microplastics in snow and rainfall wasn’t shocking enough, the sheer concentration of them is even more alarming.
Scientists examining snowfall deposits in the Arctic Circle estimated that for every liter of melted snow they collected, there were 10 thousand pieces of microplastic. How many of these 10,000 pieces of microplastic in Arctic snow came from a plastic straw that someone used instead of a paper straw? Likely more than we could ever imagine.
Microplastics are the result of our failure to recycle plastic waste
Microplastics in these far flung areas are the result of our failure to recycle plastic waste, and our planet’s natural functions. Unrecycled plastic eventually breaks down into tiny, imperceptible fragments, or microplastics. Winds and water currents then carry these microplastics to place that we would never expect.
The sources of these microparticles in the water, on land and in the air could be anything. They could be fibers of plastic particles emitted from factories, plastic straws that broke apart, or even synthetic fibers shedding from our clothes and furniture. Biodegradable goods such as paper straws, paper bags and natural fibers, on the other hand, can harmlessly disintegrate.
If our planet falls to plastic waste, then we are going down with it
What do microplastics in the air mean for humans? They mean that not only are humans potentially ingesting microplastics by eating or drinking them, they are also inhaling them. Microplastics have been known to attach themselves to toxic metals such as mercury and even bacteria, causing potentially catastrophic health hazards. Unlike the fossil fuel in plastic straws, the wood from paper straws is part of our natural environment, and once it breaks down, it naturally recycles.
With microplastics in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, when can we finally say “enough”? Maybe now is the time to wake up and realize that if our planet falls to plastic waste, then we are going down with it. At OkStraw, we are here to fight this onslaught of microplastics by offering a sustainable alternative to plastics with our paper straws. We can assure you that you won’t find an OkStraw paper straw in the Arctic, unless it’s in a drink.