I crashed a brown bag seminar at work, a talk from a UW - Tacoma professor about her research on Puget Sound water samples and how much plastic is in it. Her research was going to help extrapolate how much plastic there is in the world's oceans. I'm not going to go into great detail of the results of the research done here but, no surprise, she found plastic in all her samples.
What did surprise me, however, was a few of the things she stated. The first was that she didn't believe there was a giant plastic patch in the Pacific. Her thinking was that, since it's hard to specify where the patch is and its size given its mobility due to currents and a whole host of other variables, it didn't exist. This would have made Beth Terry chafe.
The second statement she made was that there was no evidence that plastics, given their stability, were dangerous as far as leaching chemicals goes. She even jokingly offered up the idea that perhaps eating microbeads would be a good dieting method because it gave the feeling of satiety. She said that seabirds and fish could eat it and it would pass through their systems (if not too large, which is a problem) but it otherwise wouldn't affect them negatively from a chemical standpoint. This chapped my hide because there clearly is a lot of research showing that plastics leach all sorts of chemicals. BPA is an obvious example.
The last comment really burned my britches. When she asked us what we could do to prevent plastic in the oceans, the room was silent for a moment so I offered up the most obvious conclusion: "use less plastic". Her response was that they weren't about to take on the plastic industry. The answer, of course, is properly disposing of plastics but many people in the audience kept trying to bring up alternatives to plastics. The speaker stated that it's a "personal choice" but didn't have any suggestions or knowledge on how to avoid plastics.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from this seminar, but I guess it was that the speaker would have a broader view of plastics, its affects and would be an activist for less plastics all-around. Instead, she focused directly on her more immediate research and less on the problem as a whole.
I'm not trying to criticize, it just occurred to me that, even scientists who spend their whole careers specializing in studying plastics in the ocean maybe aren't looking at the other issues involved.
What do you think? Do you think the problem of plastics in the ocean is just a disposal issue or are there other endemic problems with plastics?