Rain and microplastics!

Since joining this project six months ago I have become increasingly aware of just how polluted the natural environment is with plastic. Seemingly innocent items that we would never consider being problematic, such as toothpaste or facial scrubs – and even glitter! – are contributing to this major global issue. While I make a daily conscious effort to reduce it, it is almost impossible to buy groceries and other goods without plastic packaging. On a positive note, there does appear to be a greater public awareness around this issue, as when people ask about my work they are all able to report on a news article or documentary they saw recently.

My name is Linda, and my research is currently focused on the movement of microplastics through the soil and what processes might be hindering this. I’ll investigate this by looking at how simulated rainfall may move these plastic particles through columns of soil. This migration through soil is considered a potential pathway into groundwater, which poses a threat to our aquatic species and even drinking water. It has been a slow start however, as despite the vast amount of microplastics available in the environment, they are not the easiest to get hold of commercially. While I should be grateful of this for the environments sake, I’m really just itching to continue my testing! I’m hopeful that I have found a solution to this, so I will have more to report on in my next post.

Lab Pic

Busy at my computer

Anniversary

 

First of all, let me clarify that this is not an obituary but rather a small milestone to celebrate, me being almost a year into my PhD and all…!

My name is James, and although I’m no crusader, I still sit here with my glass bottle of water trying to make little changes to my plastic use wherever I can. A year in, I can say that I’m finally starting to make some headway with my research, yes be it small…, but in the right direction nonetheless.

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River sampling 

Currently I’m trying to see if I can identify potential pathways for microplastic exposure and transfer within the freshwater food web. What does that even mean…? Well, earlier this morning I had my head over a tray of benthic marcoinvertebrates (those small but visible aquatic insects living on the river bed) trying to “remove the micro from the macro” it would seem. In other words, trying to find out whether these insects do consume microplastics, and if so, where these microplastics may have come from. From there, I’ll be working my way up the food chain, to the top, and to one of our more elusive yet charismatic mustelids, the Eurasian otter. That’s where it’s really at..!

However patience is a virtue I’ve been told and so I must wait. Watch this space however… maybe my next post will be about one of the road kills we have collected.

P.bipunctata

Stone fly nymphs (Perla bipunctata)

Why isn’t anything being done?

Roisin NashWorking in the area of dissemination you can see how people are becoming ever more aware of the terms ‘plastic litter’, ‘microplastics’ and ‘nanoplastics’. There are plenty of blogs out there discussing plastics and images showing their increasing presence on the landscape from people who are passionate about wanting to help curtail the ever increasing pressure we are putting on our ecosystems and in particular our waterways.

I recently came across some very effective short videos: Plastic-Free Waterways Video Series aimed at getting the message out there about plastic litter. With all of this exposure ‘Why isn’t anything being done?’

There actually is lots being done in the background!

Research and more research!! You may not be aware of the investment in the funding of research projects such as this one to explore the sources and pathways of microplastics. To me it makes sense that the more scientific information available, the more informed a decision the government can make, which can result in a more effective action/approach being taken. With this in mind our Government each year invests money to help “identify pressures, inform policy and develop solutions to environmental challenges through the provision of strong evidence-based scientific knowledge” through state agencies such as the EPA, SFI, the Marine Institute and Teagasc. Believe me when I say this is not a plug for our government as I will be one of the first in line to apply pressure to act once we have sufficient information – mmhh sounds like a cop out. When is sufficient enough? I do think that it is all the little things collectively that will curb the plastic tide i.e.every research report and paper, all the media coverage and on line blogs.

This blog will follow some of the scientists on this project to get an insight into life as a plastics researcher, the highs and lows of sampling, the trials and tribulations of processing the plastic samples once collected, interesting facts they uncover along the way and whether they believe that their part will make a difference in the scale of the plastic litter problem being uncovered.

MicroPlastic-Infographic-Final-2016_Image by Boomerang Alliance

Image by Boomerang Alliance

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Rubbish free Rivers leave cleaner Fish Livers

Here is an interesting almost poetic insight written by a couple of GMIT college students after coming across microplastics on a stroll one evening:

“It was a warm, tranquil autumn eve as I strolled gracefully along the banks of a glistening and what was once a highly secluded waterway, illuminated  by the remaining rays cast upon it by a fading sun, that I discovered the true grotesque nature of unsightly material which now engulfs the borders of many of our rivers and lakes, and has tarnished the true elegance and beauty of these once, very peaceful freshwater environments. This unsightly material that I am referring to is the plastic debris such as food wrappers and polystyrene cups which are now found commonly discarded along pathways adjacent to rivers and lakes and have also accumulated within the banks of our waterways.”

So, what does it come down to ‘Laziness and Ignorance’ perhaps??

Not thinking of were that discarded plastic bottle ends up once it leaves your hand as you throw it away …. The fragmentation of the plastic through the elements allowing the macroplastics (larger than 5mm) to make there way via wind and rain to our waterways washed up onto the banks upon which they are further broken down to microplastics…

What can be done??

Awareness and education is often the key to solving any problem if the person knew that the microplastics from their waste bottle could make it into their own drinking water would they think twice….

Food for thought until our next insight into microplastics!!

Pond Monaghan

A pond in Co. Monaghan [Photo Credit: ©Róisín Nash]

Welcome

Welcome to my blog on all that is micro and plastic!

MDeegan Lake Monaghan

A lake in Co. Monaghan [Photo Credit: ©Malcolm Deegan]

Over the next few years we will be exploring our freshwater systems and micro-plastic pollution. As a very topical subject in Ireland at the moment it is an exciting time to be involved in this research. Are what we are hearing and reading just the tip of the iceberg? I hope to share with you not only my findings but also interesting articles on and around the topic

So what do you think? I have started my blog with a poll to see what you are thinking….