What are microplastics and what impact do microplastics in our oceans have on our planet and our health? Find out what microplastics are, how they are made, and what you can do to reduce them.
I primarily talk about food on this site, but in general, everything relates to improving wellness and health in a natural way. Preventative health tweaks like eating real food and using natural beauty products allow us to live our fullest lives.
And in that vein today I’m talking about water: what’s happening to it, why it matters, and what you can do to help fix it!
I feel privileged to live next to the mountain springs of the Rockies. For the most part, we have clean fresh water to drink and play in, but that’s not the case for everyone. And the water here isn’t nearly as clean as I thought it was!
Clean water not only means you can drink it in peace, but also so you can enjoy playing in it whether that is surfing in Nicaragua, conquering scorpion pose on the beach, or paddleboarding in mountain lakes.
Why we need to pay attention to our water
Looking at health holistically goes beyond just choosing organic veggies, wild-caught salmon, and aluminum-free deodorant. We rely on a clean environment and water for so much: good soil, healthy plants and animals, and of course to stay hydrated.
But we also kind of assume clean water when we are out surfing, swimming, or SUPing. And for that matter, when we are pouring from the tap into our glass. But as we’ve seen in certain parts of the country, we can’t always trust our water is of high quality.
I can tell you before this week, I didn’t realize there could be tons of microplastic in the waters around me when I jumped into this ocean. And I didn’t know much about how landlocked farmlands impact ocean waters.
Microplastics in the Ocean
I recently read about Lizzie Carr’s Stand up Paddle across the English channel to collect water samples for testing of microplastics.
In each sample, she found over two types of plastic originating from places far from the shores.
I think there’s this perception that the problem with trash is because of the people living near the coasts… but it floats in from across the globe.
These micro pieces of plastic are broken down into tiny pieces not visible to the human eye. Because of that, it’s hard to see just how bad it is and how it is impacting our world.
How do Oceanic Microplastics Affect Wildlife?
Our fish swim and eat in that polluted ocean and marine life have been found with plastics in their digestive tracks.
Imbibed plastics leads to chemical additives or hydrophobic waterborne pollutants depositing in the marine muscle tissue, which can eventually be ingested by and negatively impact larger animals and eventually humans.
And while this particular plastic SUP adventure was in England, microplastics can be found in our U.S. waterways, too.
Want to reduce plastics?
- Read: 9 life hacks to save mother earth that aren’t shorter showers
- Buy a metal water bottle like S’well
- Use a reusable coffee mug like Klean Kanteen
- Replace plastic wrap with Etee bees wax food wraps
The Gulf Dead Zone
A little closer to home, fishermen experience a “fishing drought” in springtime. I’m talking about the dead zone in the gulf.
The problem seems to be correlated with runoff from conventional agriculture flowing into the Mississippi River.
Many of the pesticides and fertilizers are not absorbed into the soil and run off into our rivers, eventually making their way to the lakes, marshes, and oceans. Not only is excess phosphate really hard to recover once lost to the sea, the runoff makes an uninhabitable zone for sea life.
The nitrogen and phosphorus create algae blooms that reduce oxygen and inhibit other marine life. This negatively impacts our seafood chain and tourism, like scuba diving, because there is no marine life to see.
This impacts our health because it reduces access to wild fish and leads to impaired health and nutrition of those fish when we do eat them.
But the good news is that people are helping!
Bloggers like compost and cava are encouraging people to make more earth-friendly choices, avoid single-use plastics, and use bar soap. Yep, that’s right. Most liquid hand soaps are actually detergents that are harmful to our waterways.
Thanks to her, I’m switching our household to bar soaps, starting in the bathrooms.
And some companies, too
Many companies are also recognizing the problem and making better choices.
As consumers, we have the power to vote with our dollars and choose products that are naturally sourced and are working to improve our waterways.
And you know what?
When they make these choices that are better for the environment, they are also making choices that are better for your health.
Eco-friendly is often health-conscious
Something that is unique in beauty and body care products, in general, is transparency in ingredients. Learning the different ingredients and how they impact your body and the earth is overwhelming.
But if you’re going to use a product every day, you kind of want to know what’s in it.
I love when companies list out all of their ingredients and explain how they were derived and why they chose to include them in their products. Beauty Counter and Tom’s of Maine do this well, listing all of the ingredients and an overview of why and how they use each one. For brands that don’t have that, try checking out the Environmental Working Group as they provide ratings for many products.
Why the water matters to me (and should to you, too!)
Water has always been a big part of my life. Since a young girl, I felt a pull towards the ocean and tried to spend as much time as possible in the water, which was a challenge in dry Colorado.
But living in Colorado, where natural water is sparse, I learned how valuable it is. And there’s not a much better way to spend a weekend than paddling around the mountain lakes and reservoirs. I hate to think of how those waters will look if we continue on the same path.
What about the damage that has already been done?
There’s already a significant amount of pollution from our excessive plastic use, and it’s on the rise.
Everything we do as consumers helps keep that problem from growing, so keep on reducing your single-use plastics and switching to bar soap!
But on a larger scale, we need some cleanup.
6 tips to improve your impact on our waterways
- Change your toothpaste: Ever since I decided to detox my bathroom routine, I’ve been a fan of natural toothpaste, and my favorite brand so far is Tom’s of Maine. I like that I can find it in most stores, they have travel size, they offer toothpaste tube recycling, and they give a non-fluoride option that isn’t full of artificial sweeteners. I think that starting and ending your day with a jolt of sweetness trains your taste buds to expect more sweetness. And I’m trying to reduce added sugars, so why not start with something I use twice a day?
- Switch to bar soap: I’m taking out the liquid pumps and putting bars of soap in the bathrooms, especially the guest bathroom that people use when they visit. There are all sorts of beautiful hand-made soaps available these days and this uses less plastic than the liquid soap.
- Ditch the detergents: Most soaps are actually detergents, which don’t break down as well and can harm the waterways. It’s easy to prevent harmful detergents from entering our water streams by using Castille soaps or bar soaps instead.
- Buy fewer synthetic fabrics: Many synthetic fabrics are made out of microplastics some of these plastic fibers are released in the washer machine. Look for natural fibers and avoid synthetics like nylon, spandex, and clothes made of recycled plastic bottles. When you are washing synthetics, turn down the spin cycle and wash time to minimize the release of microfibers.
- Reduce your single-use plastics: these means water bottles, take out food, plastic forks, coffee cups and everything else that we dispose of. Invest in metal water bottles, reusable straws, travel silverware, and travel coffee mugs. Read more here: 9 tips for less waste.
- Reduce Chemicals in Other Places of Your Home: Our cookware, cleaning supplies, and beauty products can have harmful ingredients that can cause problems for not only our waterways but also our health. Look for brands with cleaner ingredients lists that make products safe for oceans.