27 October 2016
Kate Lin of Greenpeace said people are poisoning themselves by eating seafood that ingested plastic microbeads. Photo: Greenpeace
Kate Lin of Greenpeace said people are poisoning themselves by eating seafood that ingested plastic microbeads. Photo: Greenpeace

Greenpeace warns of tiny plastic debris in seafood

The environmental group Greenpeace has called on the government to regulate the sale of cosmetic products using plastic microbeads after its study showed that the pollutants have been found in more than 170 marine species, including seafood consumed by Hongkongers.

The plastic microbeads are often used in popular toiletries, such as shower gels and body scrubs, and people could be poisoning themselves by eating seafood that have ingested these tiny pellets, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Among the marine species found to have ingested the microbeads are flathead mullet, oysters, mussels, silver-stripe round herring, lobsters and even bluefin tuna, Greenpeace said.

In a report titled Plastics in Seafood, which was released on Wednesday, the group said oyster samples collected in France were found to have an average of 0.47 piece of microbead each, while mussels along Chinese coastlines were found to have 4.6 pieces of microbeads each.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Kate Lin Pui-yi said the study found that it is common for these plastic pellets to be consumed by fish and other marine species and thus enter the food chain.

“There is little doubt that our oceans are swamped by plastic debris,” Lin said.

“These pellets have now made it to our dining tables and we are consuming them, whether you are cooking a dish of steamed flathead mullet at home or eating sashimi at a Japanese restaurant.”

Greenpeace has called on personal beauty and cosmetic brands to stop using plastic pellets in their products.

It also urged the government to introduce legislation to monitor and regulate the use and sale of products containing plastic microbeads.

The Environmental Protection Department said the global community is still at an exploratory stage on the subject of microbeads and ways of monitoring them.

It said it would consider similar studies in Hong Kong when the time is ripe.

Lincoln Fok, an assistant professor of the Department of Science and Environmental Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, said his team has retrieved 11 plastic pellets with a diameter of less than 5 millimeters in the waters of western Lantau and east of Crooked Island in 2014.

Fok said the pellets resembled those used in body scrub products, which suggests that our waste water treatment facilities are unable to filter out these microbeads discharged from residential sources.

According to the Greenpeace report, plastic pellets could deform the intestines of fish and lower their mobility and ability to react.

While plastic pellets are difficult to degrade, they accumulate in the food chain and could even contain toxins, increasing the health hazards to animals and humans.

In a survey commissioned by Greenpeace in April and May this year, the Hong Kong Baptist University found that 48 percent of the 804 respondents surveyed said they use body scrub products 4.37 times a week.

About 87 percent of them said they were not aware that the products contain tiny pellets and that they could pose health risks, while 80 percent said they could not understand the information on the product description labels.

Consumers are advised to look out for Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polyethylene terephthalate, Polymethyl methylacrylate, Nylon-12 and Nylon-6 as these ingredients could contain plastic microbeads.

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