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Plastic Pollution Low on the Priority List for Many Communities

22 September 2015

CANADA - The majority of plastics in the ocean are microplastics those less than 5mm in size, making them ideal for ingestion by even the smallest of animals, with implications for transference of toxins up the food chain – including into humans. Max Liboiron, a sociologist at Memorial University Newfoundland, discussed in a seminar last week that plastic pollution is low on the list of priorities for many communities.

If we are to tackle plastic pollution, Ds Liboiron argued at the "Representing Invisible Harm: A Dilemma of Charisma, Plastics, Fish, and Ethics” seminar, we need to make it visible – and charismatic.

Communicating the science of marine plastic pollution, and implications for human and animal health in a way that promotes action remains challenging.

Dr Liboiron notes that part of this challenge lies in existing pollution laws which are based on the assumption that there is a level at which a pollutant begins to cause harm, allowing for a level of ‘permissible pollution’ to be determined and regulated against.

Plastic chemicals may not have such a level, with studies indicating the ingestion of any amount of plastic-derived chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) having adverse effects.

A second issue lies in the invisibility of plastic pollution. Notwithstanding that most marine plastics are largely out of view, the potential impacts on the health of humans and other animals is largely invisible.

For example, whilst scientific data has demonstrated that the chemicals which leach from plastics are endocrine disruptors, the effects of these disruptors are not immediately obvious.

Just how to raise the visibility and charisma of plastic pollution so it becomes important to people requires careful thought.

Dr Liboiron notes that it’s not just a case of raising concern, but encouraging meaningful action. Action directed incorrectly, Dr Liboiron warns, can ultimately prevent the right action taking place.

Sam Andrews

Sam Andrews
Freelance journalist

Samantha is a marine conservation biologist/ecologist. She holds an MSc in Marine Environmental Management, an Advanced Graduate Diploma (3/4 of a Masters) in Fisheries Management, and is currently undertaking a PhD focusing on marine spatial management for conservation and sustainable ocean use. She has worked closely alongside Government, NGOs, and the fishing industry to help improve the ways in which we interact with the ocean. When she is not doing science, she works as a marine science communicator.

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