From micro-plastics to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, everyone is aware of the scope of humankind’s plastic waste. It has long been known that plastic materials have been found in seafood, but new research has elaborated on how far plastic can permeate. Plastic bags have been found as far as the Mariana Trench, and studies have shown micro-plastics prevalent in our tapwater and salt. A recent study from Purdue University in Aug. 2018 studied 159 tap water samples across the globe, finding that at least 81% were contaminated, mostly with fibers between 0.1-5mm in length.
Another study completed 2015 in Shanghai, China researched the extent of micro-plastics in commercial table salt. From the 15 brands of samples taken from Chinese ocean coastal areas, lakes, and wells, sea salts were found to have a much higher content of plastic particles per kilogram (550–681 particles/kg in sea salts, 43–364 particles/kg in lake salts, and 7–204 particles/kg in rock/well salts).
This signals the abundance of micro-plastic contamination that occurs in the ocean, primarily polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene, and cellophane.
A 2017 study also researched micro-plastic contamination in 17 table salt brands across 8 different countries: while micro-plastics were absent in one brand, others contained various plastic polymers , pigments, and amorphous carbon.
While the amount of micro-plastic in salt is negligible in terms of consumption health risks, this data indicates a gradual accumulation of contamination in the ocean, with little understanding of future consequences. Micro-plastics at sea have been discovered to host micro-organisms and could serve as a new habitat for potential pathogens, which can be spread and ingested globally.
Our epoch will be recorded for centuries to come, as the artifacts of our disposable lifetime remain, resisting decomposition. If the Holocene era was named to include both Bronze and Iron Ages, then ours will be called the Great Plastic Era.
However, at least with this nomenclature comes the realization that our generation faces a problem that simply isn’t going away. And through this understanding we can start to outline some solutions.