Japan’s contribution to the accumulation of microplastics in the ocean


What Are Microplastics, and Why Are They Significant?

Microplastics are essentially what they sound like: tiny pieces of plastic. They are commonly defined as plastics that are measured to be 5mm or smaller.

Microplastics are essentially what they sound like: tiny pieces of plastic. They are commonly defined as plastics that are measured to be 5mm or smaller [1].

One form of microplastic is the type that degrades from larger pieces of plastic into smaller ones. Another form of microplastic that has great significance is microbeads, which are manufactured small beads of polyethylene plastic made for beauty and health products, such as toothpaste and exfoliant products. Microbeads find their ways into oceans past water filtration systems, due to their tiny size [2].

Currently, about 8 million metric tons of plastic are put into the world’s oceans every year. The rate of plastic production has been increasing by about 8.7% every year since the 1960s. It is a monstrous industry, with it being valued at $600 billion. A number of the plastics that find their way into the ocean are caused by maritime activity; however, the vast majority of the plastic comes from land-based sources and are discarded in the ocean. [3]

Not only can physical pieces of plastic get lodged inside marine life’s bodies, microplastics can also release chemicals and toxins into their surrounding waters. Studies have shown that periwinkles exposed to the chemicals have experienced inhibition of their defensive instincts when in the presence of their natural predators: crabs. Research has shown that this may have something to do with chemicals disrupting animal embryo development. [4]

Japan’s Microplastic Consumption/Use

Japan has been a country for years that produces large amounts of microplastics that are put in the ocean. In 2017, about 40% of of fish caught in Japan had pieces of microplastics inside their digestive systems. [5] As a result, Japan’s Upper House voted last year to pass a bill that will attempt to reduce the amount of microplastics released into the ocean.

A Step Towards a Solution: Clean-Ups

Obviously, it is incredibly difficult to realistically come up with a solution that could simultaneously clean up all microplastics on the Earth and reduce the dumping of them into the world’s oceans. Here is a step in the right direction to help our communities. In my case, that is my national community of Japan.

An easy way for people not involved in government to help solve the issue of microplastics is to participate in beach clean-up events. In Japan, there are many organizations and events being held to clean up beaches along the archipelago.

  • JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network – an NGO dedicated to the conservation of oceans and rivers by conducting marine litter investigations and beach clean-ups.
  • Nippon Foundation’s ‘Dosukoi Beach Clean’ – A fun event for children held by the Nippon Foundation as part of their Umi-to-Nippon Project to clean up garbage on the beach and have an opportunity to meet professional sumo wrestlers.
  • SEGO Initiative’s Fujisawa Beach Clean Project – an organization that holds biannual beach cleanups and partners with student groups.

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  1. May 08, 2019 by Michael Bell

    Great project Rebecca! I can see how informed and passionate about this topic you are. Do you think cleanups are really the best solution for microplastics? Aren’t they too small to cleanup? I wonder if we need to go back further than that to the source? Great work spreading awareness about this important topic!

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