The ways to stop plastic pollution

© photoGabyGORSKY2

22 novembre 2014

Interview with Gaby Gorsky, Scientific director of the Tara Mediterranean expedition, and director of the Oceanographic Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer / UPMC-CNRS

What do we know today about the impact of plastic pollution on plankton and indirectly, on humans?

The aim of the Tara Mediterranean expedition is to better understand the impact of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem. Research has shown there is an accumulation of pollutants throughout the marine food chain. Plastic easily concentrates pollutants, and some planktonic organisms swallow or filter plastic fragments, thus assimilating certain chemical compounds and transmitting them to the food chain. Chemical analyses have proven that fish at the end of the food chain accumulate pollutants. As for the impact on human beings, this too has been shown. In fact, health protection agencies advise pregnant women to limit their consumption of certain kinds of fish that contain contaminants harmful to health.

Do you think plastic pollution in the oceans can be stopped? What can we do to stop it?

There are several possible ways. The first is education: people must understand that anything not thrown into a trash bin will end up sooner or later in the oceans. The second, and perhaps the best is to change our ways of functioning: we must give up using non-degradable plastic, and adopt natural products. At the same time, we have to plan the long-term cleanup of the coasts, where most of the floating plastic (especially in the Mediterranean) finishes its journey. The last way is to just let the plastic waste break down. When plastic deteriorates, it fragments into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes invisible. But this doesn’t make it less harmful, because the smaller the pieces, the greater the number of organisms that can ingest it. The plastic in this way moves up the food chain. Today several laboratories are looking for alternatives – ways to break down plastic into non-toxic products.