Some of the largest consumers of the single-use plastics that end up in our rivers and oceans are the service and retail industries. While this has an immediate effect on local wildlife, it also has a long-term effect on climate and public health. Plastics have become essential components of products and packaging because they’re durable, lightweight, and cheap. But though they offer numerous benefits, plastics originate as fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases from cradle to grave. Today, about 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics, according to the World Economic Forum. If this reliance on plastics persists, plastics will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050 (Yale Climate Connections).
The public health concern is that these single use plastics break down even further, into microplastics, which later make their way into the food we eat and into our drinking water. A 2019 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia estimated that people consume about 5 grams of plastic a week — roughly the equivalent of a credit card.
Microplastics Study Measures Impact On Waterways
Durham – Measuring microplastics in North Carolina’s waterways is no small job. In collaboration with Waterkeepers Carolina, Haw River Assembly is launching a two-year study to collect surface water and sediment samples to understand better the volume of microplastics and macroplastic pollution in North Carolina’s streams, rivers, lakes, and bays.
The study “Improving Human and Ecosystem Health through Microplastic Reduction” launched in February as a collaborative project across 10 nonprofit environmental organizations. To get baselines, 15 Riverkeepers collected two surface water samples and sediment samples. This is the first of bi-monthly samples that will be collected over two years.
To follow this study and learn more about North Carolina’s Riverkeepers’ work, visit Waterkeepers Carolina – https://waterkeeperscarolina.
In efforts to mitigate this issue, the Haw River Assembly is partnering with local businesses to eliminate single-use plastics in their business models. Look out for our campaigns window decal and support these local businesses working to eliminate the consumption of microplastics one straw at a time!
Watch Us Work!
Plastics Research on the Haw
Your Haw Riverkeeper, Emily Sutton, is busy monitoring microplastics in the Haw River at several locations throughout the basin. This includes downstream of large municipalities like Greensboro, Burlington, Durham, Chapel Hill and Apex. Thanks to a team at UNC Chapel Hill, we will soon be able to provide you with quantitative data comparing major cities in the Haw River basin for their plastics pollution.
For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.
In a joint investigation, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.