How beaches in the UK address the growing problem of ocean microplastics

The UK is known for its long and sandy beaches. Thousands of visitors hit the beach each year, particularly during the summer season to catch some fresh sea air. The serene beaches and greenery provide the much-needed peace to your eyes that you don’t often get in the city. But what’s interesting is the fact that the local authorities of many of the famous beaches in the UK have taken strides in terms of educating visitors about the importance of disposing garbage properly to prevent the growth of microplastics.

According to researchers, it’s essential to understand that plastics break down into microplastics, which could then be ejected from the water and get blown away by the wind, bringing them back to shore. This means that the problem of ocean plastic pollution wreaks havoc in more ways than previously thought.

As is generally accepted, plastic destroys marine ecosystems. But what could be more concerning is the fact that as plastic swirls around the ocean, they tend to break down into smaller pieces called microplastics. In a pilot study involving microplastics, researchers have found that these tiny pieces may be invisible to the naked eye. Still, they can cause severe damage if no urgent measures are taken to address the problem.

The researchers used a ‘cloud catcher’ machine which works by capturing water droplets and then looking for the presence of microplastics. According to the study published in the journal, PLoS One, plastic fragments measuring five to 140 micrometres are found in the air. The researchers explain that microplastics are released into the atmosphere by either wave action or bubble burst ejection, especially in areas with strong winds or choppy seas.

This study shows that microplastic pollution is a danger to seaside towns. Swanage, being one of the most-visited seaside towns in the UK, is well aware of this potential threat and has taken measures to prevent this danger. And when considering previous studies that proved how plastic fragments could travel long distances with the wind, it’s easy to understand how this could negatively impact health.

The good news is that most of the beaches in the UK have already set new targets in terms of reducing waste. According to Swanage News, the coastal town of Swanage has stringent measures in place that encourage both locals and tourists to reduce their waste and recycle whenever they can. Several recycling facilities can be found around town to make it more convenient for homeowners to practice proper garbage disposal.

Banning some single-use plastics altogether can help solve this problem. This has been recently implemented, with England imposing a ban on plastic straws and stirrers, for example, in April 2020. This radical approach may be necessary to finally put an end to the problem of plastic pollution, even if it requires people to find alternatives.

This new study highlights the need for a change in how plastics are used and disposed of. Plastics cause much more harm than what is generally known, especially when considering how marine species might consume plastic fragments and then enter the food chain, increasing human health risk at the same time.