National Geographic goes viral for all the right reasons
Friday, May 18, 2018, 1:07 PM - Earlier this week, National Geographic kicked off its 'Planet or Plastic' campaign with a stunning image that has environmentalists, academics and all-round lovers of design buzzing.
Plastic waste isn't a new issue, but the magazine's June 2018 cover has helped re-ignite online discussion, with thousands taking to social media to chime in.
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The piece, called Iceberg Plástico, features what appears to be a giant iceberg -- but it is actually a plastic bag floating in the water.
It was created by Mexican artist Jorge Gamboa and the design won first place in the political and social posters category of Bolivia’s Biennial of Poster 2017 contest.
The rest of the issue, which is guest-edited by retired sailor Ellen MacArthur, is filled with sobering images of our trash-littered planet.
PLASTIC IN THE OCEAN
The National Geographic cover and accompanying magazine are intended to shine a spotlight on an ever-growing environmental problem.
A study published in December 2014 by U.S. and U.K. researchers suggested there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes currently swirling in the world's oceans.
The largest source of plastic was from discarded fishing nets, but a heavy presence of plastic bags, toys and bottles was discovered as well.
Smaller pieces appear to be getting eaten by fish and travelling up the food chain.
The study only measured plastic found floating at the top of the ocean, and not the trash littering the seabed.
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PLASTIC IN THE ICE
Plastic isn't just swirling in the water: A separate study published in May 2014 discovered there could be trillions of pieces of microplastics lurking in Arctic ice.
As the ice melts due to rising global temperatures, it could flood the ecosystem with an unprecedented amount debris.
"Arctic sea ice from remote locations contains concentrations of microplastics at least two orders of magnitude greater than those that have been previously reported in highly contaminated surface waters," the study's author's write.
"Our findings indicate that microplastics have accumulated far from population centers and that polar sea ice represents a major historic global sink of man-made particulates."
The research team believes that Arctic ice is trapping floating microplastics as it freezes. By citing current melting trends, the team estimates that 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released in the next decade.
WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS?
Plastics that are less than five millimeters in length are called "microplastics."
Not much is known about their long-term environmental impact, but these tiny plastic particles can evade water filtration systems and end up in our lakes, posing a threat to aquatic life.