Mardi Gras and Microplastics•
Posted on February 09 2023
“It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance.” – Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist
"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" “Throw me something, mister!” If you have never been to a Mardi Gras parade, do yourself a favor and experience it at least once. Every little town along the gulf coast has its own celebration that provides that “carnival season” flair without the giant crowds in New Orleans. This month’s installment of “A Year of Trash” takes place the day after the “Day Parade” for Ocean Springs. Parade day is a day of friends, fun, and lots of music and dancing. During the parades you can see anything from beauty queens to pirates aboard huge wooden ship floats. Beads and treasures galore are thrown to the cheering crowds. You may catch a plastic water gun, a feather boa, a frisbee, or one of the most popular items, a Moon Pie. The parades start just after lunch, but the party continues late into the night. Mardi Gras is one of the seasons for which the sleepy little town of Ocean Springs wakes up early and stays up late.
I knew this clean up would be a larger task than most others, but I was happy to see that I was not the only one helping clean up the remains of the previous day of fun. There were several people picking up things here and there while on their morning walks. The city was also out cleaning the downtown area. I went back to one of my favorite spots, Front Beach. While I still found many cigarette butts (and even a whole pack of cigarettes), I also found microplastics in large amounts.
Bear with me as I give a brief rundown of exactly what we mean by “microplastics” and why it matters. Microplastics are defined as plastic that is less than 2/10” in diameter. There are two types of microplastics depending on their source. Primary microplastics originate from commercial products, like beads found in certain cosmetics, or fiber particles shed from fishing nets and line. Secondary microplastics are something that we can have a little more control on. The main source of secondary microplastics found in the environment are single use plastics. Secondary microplastics are things like pieces of a degraded water bottles, straws, wrappers, or other single use plastic containers. During this clean up, most of the microplastics were beads that had fallen off their string or shattered plastic toys. Still with me? Okay, on to why it matters, and I promise this part has fewer definitions.
Have you ever heard the phrase “You are what you eat.”? This, in a nutshell, is why you personally should care, for yourself if no one else. As of 2022, microplastics have been found in things that we all consume every day including commercial sea food and drinking water. On a larger scale, microplastics have been found in marine life from tiny plankton to, of course, the giant whales that eat the plankton. Before I go any further here, I want to establish the proper mind set. The below is based on studies that I have read, and like most good science, it does not claim absolution in any of its claims but rather speaks to what is happening most of the time. When I say that microplastic has been found in honey, I am not saying that every time you eat honey you are eating plastic. Scientist are working diligently to discover the extent of this matter, and I am sure we are only at the beginning of understanding the gravity of the issue of plastic pollution. There are estimations that the average person is consuming an average of 5 grams of plastic PER WEEK after a review of microplastics found in staple foods and drinking water. Just for reference, 5 grams is the weight of an average credit card. How are you unknowingly eating plastic you may ask? Here is a short list of foods that have been found to contain microplastics: beer, wines with polyethylene stoppers, rice, table salts, honey, fruits, and vegetables. Microplastics can infiltrate a crop by being in the water that the plants absorb. Many commercial fish consume microplastics mistakenly thought to be food items in the water.
So, now the question, what can we do to start helping NOW so that we don’t continue to eat enough plastic to fill our wallets over a lifetime? The most immediate thing to do is start taking simple steps to reduce your single use plastics consumption. Take your own bags to the grocery store, use refillable water bottles, recycle when possible. All these little things combined can add up to large impacts. Remember, together we can all be those raindrops of good that cause the storm! Every time you use a reusable bag, you put one less single use plastic bag out into use. Every time you refill your reusable water bottle, you kept a plastic bottle from becoming tomorrow’s trash. The positive to take away is that now we are aware of the issue, and what we can do to do our part in making the future different. Thank you for reading our second installation! I appreciate your time! Until next month, see ya later Sea Fans!
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