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Microplastics, Fast Fashion and Saving the Bees: EHS Today's Sustainability News

April 1, 2022
This week, we've found a few stories looking at the human impact on the environment and are inspired by some initiatives to be more sustainable.

It’s difficult to believe it’s already April! We’re having a moment where we simultaneously feel that time is whizzing by and also barely moving—the way we felt in high school when we eagerly awaited the final bell.

We’re looking at the month ahead and excited at all the celebrations. In recognition of some upcoming religious holidays, Happy Passover, Easter and Eid Mubarak for those who observe them. Here in the Great Lakes, we also look forward to the tradition of Dyngus Day. Bring on the paczki and pierogi!

We’re also looking forward to celebrating Earth Day. This year, we’re taking a hard look at our habits and daily routine and asking ourselves what we can do differently for the betterment of our planet.

For some, that could mean walking or biking instead of driving. For others, it could mean cooking a vegetarian dish at home. For all of us, it can mean pausing to appreciate the wonder and bounty Mother Earth provides us and considering what small and not-so-small changes we can make to ensure future generations can have the same experience.

With that in mind, we’ve found a few stories looking at the human impact on the environment and are inspired by some initiatives to be more sustainable.

Microplastics Detected in Human Blood

Plastic doesn’t dissolve. Instead it gets broken into smaller and smaller particles, called microplastics. They’ve been found in water supplies, animals and now—for the first time—human blood.

New research published in the journal Environment International found that plastic was in the blood of 17 of 22 study participants. More research is needed, but these findings should still sound alarm bells. Especially because the health impact and implications of such a finding are not yet known.

Half of the blood samples showed traces of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, widely used to make drink bottles. More than a third had polystyrene (PS), used for disposable food containers and many other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, which are used to make plastic shopping bags.

"This is proof that we have plastics in our body -- and we shouldn't," said study author Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, to the Agence France-Presse.

"Where is it going in your body? Can it be eliminated? Excreted? Or is it retained in certain organs, accumulating maybe, or is it even able to pass the blood-brain barrier?"

The study authors said that participants could have been exposed to microplastics through air, water and food as well as through products, such as toothpastes, lip glosses and tattoo ink. They do not know if plastic particles in the bloodstream can be transported to organs.

Read more summaries of the findings from The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine.

Europe Takes a Swipe at Fast Fashion

The European Commission has proposed some new fashion rules. Specifically, it’s targeting the fast fashion industry. As we've previously reported, the fashion industry is a major polluter; the fast fashion industry is even worse because sells clothes that are affordable, trendy and aren’t made to last—but their plastics-derived materials are. The effort is part of a bigger initiative to ensure that more physical goods that are either made or imported into the European Union (EU) are more sustainable.

"It's time to end the model of 'take, make, break, and throw away' that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy," said EU executive vice-president Frans Timmermans in a press conference, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The proposal would set new standards for how durable and reusable clothes need to be and would introduce bans on the destruction of unsold textiles, according to NPR. Companies would also be required to include how sustainable and recyclable a clothing item is on its label.

If the EU does enact new standards, it could mean big changes for what people wear or how they buy clothes, at least in Europe. But considering some well-known fast fashion brands are based in Europe (cough, cough, Zara, cough, cough H&M), we might see a trickle down effect in the U.S.

Maybe it’ll add more fuel to the global push towards sustainability and higher standards. Earlier this week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed rules requiring companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions, notably in its value chain (Scope 3) since that’s where the metaphorical sausage is made.

Read more about the proposed changes here.  

A New Campaign to Save the Bees

In the recent past, we’ve heard of honeybees dying in droves because of a fungus-virus combination. (You can read more about it here.) They’re also facing habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and urbanization. Those that survive are strained and challenged to find food and help pollinate our food supply. (This story about how the almond milk trend harms bees prompted us to switch milk alternatives.)

We know how important bees are, so we were buzzing with excitement when we stumbled upon some news from the town of Appleton, Wis. In 20202, the small city instituted a No Mow May, where residents kept their lawn mowers in the shed for the whole month.

The reason: “Lawns typically provide poor habitat for bees. But if allowed to flower, lawn weeds — perhaps better characterized as plants other than grass — can provide rare spring food for bees emerging from hibernation.”

A study from a nearby university found that No Mow May lawns concluded that No Mow May lawns had five times the number of bees and three times the bee species than mown parks. The movement is spreading to other communities in Wisconsin and in other states. Not everyone is a fan of lawns with high grass and other weeds, but it does seem like an easy way to help pollinators have a fighting chance. There’s still plenty more we need to do, but we’re more than happy to ignore our chores for a good cause.

Read more here.

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