Shocking pictures of garbage swirls in the sea can always be seen – but plastic pollution does not only affect distant oceans. Our domestic waters have long been full of plastic. How bad the consequences for nature and animals are can hardly be predicted.
They are practically everywhere. They fly through the air, they accumulate in the soil and increasingly also swim in our waters: microplastic particles. These are plastic particles that are smaller than 5 millimeters. The Germans use about 500 tons of it a year in cosmetic products such as peelings or toothpastes alone. A substantial part of it finds its way into rivers and seas. In addition to the already existing coarse plastic waste, which in turn breaks down into microplastics.
The path of plastic waste
In recent years, research and combating the problem of plastic waste has increasingly focused on the oceans. The waste accumulates in particularly large quantities in seas and stagnant waters and is almost impossible to remove.
"Pure Life"? Quite the opposite. (Photo: from below)
Flowing water such as rivers and streams function like plastic transport routes: they ensure that plastic also ends up in the world’s oceans from inland cities. It is estimated that around 80 percent of marine litter comes from land. A cigarette butt that is thrown into the Isar in Munich can thus drift across the Danube into the Black Sea.
Plastic in the Rhine, Danube and Lake Constance
Around 192 million microplastic particles float on the surface of the Rhine alone – 10 tons of microplastics reach the North Sea every year (study). There are sometimes more plastic particles floating in the Danube than fish larvae. Plastic particles have also been found in Lake Constance – a source of drinking water for millions of people – where scientists are researching possible consequences. And plastic pollution continues to increase.
Just like in the well-known garbage swirls in the seas, the plastic is also deposited in inland waters in Germany. Researchers assume that most of the rivers and lakes in this country have long been contaminated – there is only insufficient data for a good overview. Knowing the research results mentioned above, it seems more than likely that many or even all other German waters are contaminated with plastic.
What are the consequences in German rivers and waters??
Plastic garbage nests: Gannets on Helgoland (Photo: by Engelberger below)
Around one million seabirds die each year from the consequences of plastic pollution worldwide. That doesn’t just happen on distant coasts – too in Germany plastic is fatal to birds: On Helgoland, for example, the common booby uses plastic nets from the sea to build nests. Many young animals strangle and then end painfully on the plastic in their own nest.
Microplastics are of even greater concern to many researchers. Many typical freshwater residents ingest plastic microparticles: Plastic has already been found in shells, snails, worms and water fleas. With water fleas, for example, the absorption of microplastics prevents food intake – they starve.
Plastic itself is not necessarily toxic. However, dangerous additives such as plasticizers, flame retardants or paints are often added during manufacture. Plastic also accumulates toxins in the environment – heavy metals, dioxins and so-called PBTs (persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances). Animals that eat plastic also swallow these poisons. The consequences are still largely unexplored, but previous knowledge gives cause for concern: For example, lugworms that recorded hard PVC with the sediment of the North Sea showed Intestinal inflammation.
Microplastics (photo "Micro Plastic" from below)
Plastic is present in the entire food chain today, from plankton to edible fish. Its toxic components also end up on our plates. This probably applies to domestic freshwater fish as well as to marine fish. The exact extent of the damage to health and the environment has not yet been determined. It is clear that we humans are also directly affected – for example if we eat fish from the North Sea.
Avoid plastic: everyone can start with themselves
Plastic is present in our everyday life and is almost impossible to avoid entirely. However, it is up to us to use less plastic, to use it responsibly and to help the industry develop alternatives. Everyone can take the first step with themselves – for example with these Tips that everyone can implement.
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