Our Synthetic Future

A fascinating new report reveals which river on Earth is the *most* polluted with microplastics (hint: it’s in Europe) – and advocates stricter legal regulations.


A recent report (Mani, T. et al. Microplastics Profile along the Rhine River. Sci. Rep. 5, 17988; doi: 10.1038/srep17988 (2015)) documents that the river Rhine is the most microplastic-polluted of all rivers and lakes monitored so far.

To crunch the numbers, I suggest that you follow one of the links below, but here are a few facts from this report:
1. Most microbeads consist of polystyrene and stem from industrial processes and plastic manufacturing sites, while the smaller amount of polyethylene particles seems to come from personal care products
2. The secondary pollution source after the industry – the cities – mostly produces polypropylene and some PVC
3. Interesting: contrary to earlier studies, synthetic garments are unlikely to be the source
4. The researches have estimated that the Rhine contributes to the micropastic pollution of the North Sea with a daily freight of over 191.6 million microplastics particles
5. Regulations? What regulations? The report states, and I quote: “legal implementation in most European countries is largely missing or insufficient“.

But that’s terrible! What can be done?”
– You, presumably

Here in Germany, some shops have discontinued free plastic bags at the checkout, having replaced them with paper bags, tote bags, or biodegradable plastic bags. Recycling is a big deal over here anyway (unless you have moronic neighbours that can’t tell their paper garbage from plastic). Revolutionary shops like Original Unverpackt in Berlin innovate re-usable packaging as an experiment for future plastic-free supermarkets. Tox-free glass bottles (Soulbottles, Drinkitnow) and steel lunch boxes like the Ecobrotbox are all the craze.

And of course there will be more legal regulations for the industry – but one of the most efficient measures in getting the hang of this immense problem is public awareness. Public awareness can help fuel the change!


Here’s the link to the researcher’s German-language website: University of Basel
Alternatively follow the link to the original report with all numbers and graphics (English; as published on Nature.com)

Also to help you remember why polystyrene, polyethylene, PVC and the likes are not good for you, check out my post Welcome To The Toxic Wasteland or have a quick look at this cheat sheet (click the image to enlarge it in a new tab):


Because I can’t do any better commenting this, let me quote from George Carlin’s infamous rant about environmentalists:

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

With one eye laughing and one eye weeping, I rest my case.

And now it’s your turn – what do you do to produce less plastic garbage?
What do you struggle most with?


Geeking out about all things truly green, healthy and ethical over at BEAUTYCALYPSE.com (Avatar illustration by A. Goncharenko)

9 Responses

  1. So sad. I am guilty of buying plastic wrapped items. But not of using plastic shopping bags as the government introduced a tax here a few years ago I think it started off at 15cents, shopping habits changed overnight and everyone now brings reusable bags to the supermarket.

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