Impact of Plastics

Plastic Production

Plastic production has increased dramatically since it became widely popular as a material that was cheap, could be molded and made into almost anything and best of all it was single-use. In the 1960s plastic production was around 15 million tons, whereas today it has grown to 335 million tons of new plastic every year and out of all the plastic ever created less than 10% of it has actually been recycled. With plastic being a petroleum and natural gas product, humans are not only throwing away valuable natural resources but also contributing to climate change.

Toxic Chemicals

To alter the physical properties of plastic to make it more elastic or hard, manufacturers add plasticizers to the polymer resin. In addition to the plasticizers, persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) may be added to the product. POP’s consist of a variety of chemicals such as; herbicides, nonylphenol, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), carcinogenic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), hexachlorobenzene and more. Prolonged leaching from storm drains and littering within the ecosystem increases POP’s within the ecosystem. Plastic is hydrophobic, meaning it has a fear of water, and POP’s are also hydrophobic. Once both are in the marine environment they can bind molecularly together making the plastic more toxic than before.

Organisms that consume plastic particles have the potential to store the chemicals in their bodies and transfer the chemicals indirectly when ingested resulting in bioaccumulation. A process where the chemicals stored in the prey’s body will be passed to a predator as they are eaten in the food chain. Endocrine disruption, cancer, and stress for organisms are just a few potential effects of ingesting microplastics.



Impacts on Washington aquatic wildlife

Prevailing wind patterns and ocean currents contribute much of the debris that ends up on Washington’s coast. This waste is affecting many organisms.  A recent study found that 12% of Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucesens) ingested plastic pollution from Washington State waters. At the University of Puget Sound, a team conducted a study to analyze two shorebird species; the Northern Fulmar and Sooty Shearwater. A total of 90% of Northern Fulmar samples and 50% of Sooty Shearwaters had plastic in their gut.

In another study conducted by the University of Puget Sound, a team analyzed benthic and forage fish and their relationship to plastic. All forage fish species sampled were found to be ingesting plastic, but the frequency of occurrence ranged from 15% to 40% depending on the species. At some locations in the Sound, 70-90% of the benthic fish English sole and ratfish had plastic in their stomachs. Zooplankton are ingesting microplastics for food, local and iconic adult salmon are ingesting anywhere between 39 to 91 particles of plastic per day and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) which often venture into the Puget Sound can ingest up to 30k pieces of plastic within one day. While these are just a few of the organisms we have locally, plastic has been found in the stomachs of over 600 species worldwide.

  • Botterell, Z. L., Beaumont, N., Dorrington, T., Steinke, M., Thompson, R. C., & Lindeque, P. K. (2019). Bioavailability and effects of microplastics on marine zooplankton: A review. Environmental Pollution,245, 98-110. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.065
  • Courtene-Jones, W., Quinn, B., Ewins, C., Gary, S. F., & Narayanaswamy, B. E. (2019). Consistent microplastic ingestion by deep-sea invertebrates over the last four decades (1976–2015), a study from the North East Atlantic. Environmental Pollution,244, 503-512. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.090
  • Critchell, K., & Hoogenboom, M. O. (2018). Effects of microplastic exposure on the body condition and behaviour of planktivorous reef fish (Acanthochromis polyacanthus). Plos One,13(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193308
  • Devriese, L. I., Meulen, M. D., Maes, T., Bekaert, K., Paul-Pont, I., Frère, L., . . . Vethaak, A. D. (2015). Microplastic contamination in brown shrimp (Crangon crangon, Linnaeus 1758) from coastal waters of the Southern North Sea and Channel area. Marine Pollution Bulletin,98(1-2), 179-187. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.06.051
  • Flint, S., Markle, T., Thompson, S., & Wallace, E. (2011). Bisphenol A exposure, effects      and policy: A wildlife perspective. Elsevier,104, 19-34. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.03.021
  • Fukuhori, N., Kitano, M., & Kimura, H. (2005). Toxic Effects of Bisphenol A on Sexual        and Asexual Reproduction in Hydra oligactis. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology,48(4), 495-500. doi:10.1007/s00244-004-0032-1
  • Kitada, Y., Kawahata, H., Suzuki, A., & Oomori, T. (2008). Distribution of pesticides and bisphenol A in sediments collected from rivers adjacent to coral reefs. Chemosphere,71(11), 2082-2090. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2008.01.025
  • León, V. M., García, I., González, E., Samper, R., Fernández-González, V., & Muniategui-Lorenzo, S. (2018). Potential transfer of organic pollutants from littoral plastics debris to the marine environment. Environmental Pollution,236,   442-453. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2018.01.114
  • Lindborg, V. A., Ledbetter, J. F., Walat, J. M., & Moffett, C. (2012). Plastic consumption and diet of Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens). Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64(11), 2351–2356. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.08.020
  • Munier, B., & Bendell, L. I. (2018). Macro and microplastics sorb and desorb metals and act as a point source of trace metals to coastal ecosystems. Plos One,13(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0191759
  • Pan, Z., Guo, H., Chen, H., Wang, S., Sun, X., Zou, Q., . . . Huang, J. (2019). Microplastics in the Northwestern Pacific: Abundance, distribution, and characteristics. Elsevier,650, 1913-1922. Retrieved March 08, 2019.
  • Rochman, C. M., Hoh, E., Kurobe, T., & Teh, S. J. (2013). Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. Scientific Reports,3(1). doi:10.1038/srep03263
  • Shaw, D., & Mapes, G. (1979). Surface circulation and the distribution of pelagic tar and plastic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 10(6), 160–162. doi: 10.1016/0025-326x(79)90421-1
816 Second Avenue, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98104-1530