What is Plastic Rain?
Take a step into the backcountry - the pristine lakes & rivers of the east, the mountains of the west or the tundra of the north - and the naked eye will show you untouched wilderness.
Bring a microscope in your backpack and be prepared for a rude awakening.
Micro-plastics (tiny bits of plastic, no more than 5mm in length) haven't just entered our Oceans and Rivers, they've been swept up into our atmosphere, and travel across the earth and return as plastic rain.
And that plastic rain is dropping as much as 1,000 metric tonnes of micro plastics into the Western US's protected lands. According to a recent article from Wired:
"That’s the equivalent of over 120 million plastic water bottles [a year]."
This research - recently documented in the Journal Science - took place over 14 months, and involved the collection of rainwater and air samples within 11 protected areas of the Western United States.
The most common particles (over 60%) were microfibres like what you find from polyester clothing - yoga pants, fleece tops, underwear, t-shirts, pants and... you name it.
The next most common particles (about 30%) came from microbeads, likely the result of industrial paints and coatings - particularly sprays.
The article suggests these particles are getting swept up and spread all around the globe where they will land virtually anywhere there's wind and rain, in other words, everywhere.
Why is This a Problem?
The first issue is that plastic never really goes away, it just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller chunks, which means that we're now breathing it in, and thanks to our jetstream and rain's ability to cleanse our atmosphere, it's falling back to earth in our most pristine ecosystems.
Scientists are still figuring out the implications, but they do know that microplastics:
"can not just block up the digestive tract of small animals, like worms,” says University of Strathclyde microplastic researcher Steve Allen, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “But it's also the chemicals that are on these plastics and in these plastics that can have an effect on the soil. A lot of that is still theoretical—we're still trying to work it out.” (Wired)
What Can We Do About It?
Every time I read articles like this, I get a little overwhelmed. The problem seems so massive that it's hard to know where to begin solving it. That's a big reason why we started etee, as a way to empower folks like us to make meaningful daily changes that - if a bunch of people get on board - will add up over time.
With that said, here's three things I think we can do:
- Contact your local government representatives, get in their face and tell them you want action - now! Better yet, get a bunch of your friends together and go as a unified group.
- Support the Researches by sharing articles like this and spread the word as far and wide as you can. People need to know that this is really happening!
- Vote with Your Wallet and support companies that are providing alternatives to synthetic fabrics, paints and coatings. Try buying 100% organic cotton shirts and clothing when possible, shift away from microfibre cloths and try cellulose cloths instead and think of other ways you can reduce your daily dependence on synthetic, non-biodegradable products.
There's always a better way, we just have to open our minds to possibilities and we will figure it out.