By JJ Waters

We all want to leave our mark on the world when we go.  Hopefully, in a positive way and not notoriously. There’s no doubt, had I gone to meet my maker at an earlier time in my life, my mark might have been less-than-superlative.

But I’m older and wiser now. And the other day, I may have actually stumbled upon my “mark.”  

While chatting on the deck, my soon-to-be-nephew made a comment that struck me.  (He and my niece are getting married and I’m hosting the wedding at my home.)  

We were discussing details of the wedding, and I asked, “so what about the reception, you know, the dinnerware, etc.?”  There was a moment of dead silence as he and my niece both looked at each other, and then Chris, soon-to-be-nephew, blurted, “we’re going to have clear plastic plates and cups and stuff!” and then he added, “I told Penny, Aunt JJ’s not going to like that!”  

And there it was.  My mark. My epitaph. What everyone would talk about years from now at family gatherings.  I can just see it.  Anytime someone dare show up with a piece of plastic someone will exclaim, “it’s a good thing Aunt JJ’s not here to see that!” or “Jama would roll over in her grave if she saw you with that styrofoam!”   I was thrilled.  Not about the plastic plates, of course, but that he noticed.  They noticed.  They thought twice about it.  The plastic.  

It’s no secret that I have been fighting against plastic pollution, and for clean water issues, for most of my adult life.  Some people think I’m radical.  I don’t think I’m radical enough. I’m nowhere near perfect.  I do try. And I do try to educate others at every opportunity.

The other day I attended a webinar on microplastics hosted by UF/IFAS Extension.  Maybe you’ve seen something on social or other media about microbeads, one form of microplastics. It’s becoming more prevalent in the media because it’s become more prevalent in our world, especially our oceans.  And I learned something that had never occurred to me.  

Penny and Chris are now thinking, “No way!  Is that possible?”

I wondered, why are people paying so much attention to this issue?  For one, few wastewater treatment systems can trap microplastics, which means they end up in our water…our drinking water, and our oceans and waterways.  We already know the impact that plastics in the ocean are having on marine life. It is well documented that plastic debris causes fatalities, infections, starvation, entanglement, suffocation, and drowning.  Now we’ll soon find out the impact they have on us, too.  

Microbeads, the tiny pieces of manufactured plastic known for their use in facial and bath products and toothpastes, have already been banned for manufacture as of mid-2017 thanks to the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.  Which is awesome. But don’t get too excited just yet.  The Act only applies to microbeads in rinse off products. And microbeads are only one micro-part of the problem.

Finding bits of plastic in fish digestive systems such as this rainbow runner is all too typical.

Finding bits of plastic in fish digestive systems such as this rainbow runner is all too typical.

There are Secondary Microplastics (defined as <5mm diameter): those broken down from larger plastics; and Nurdles: resin pellets used for fillers in stuffed animals and pillows; and Synthetic Fibers: It never occurred to me that  (microplastic) fibers could shed from polyester and other synthetic clothing and end up in our ecosystem!

One of the biggest issues with microbeads and microplastics is that they float on the surface, and  pollutants and toxins attach to them.  Often mistaken for eggs or other food, seabirds and fish consume them, and now there’s scientific evidence that these toxins are absorbed into the fish that we consume.  In a recent article by Clean Water Action, “In a 2008 Pacific Gyre voyage, Algalita researchers discovered that of the 672 fish caught during that voyage, 35% had ingested plastic pieces.” And that was 8 years ago.  We are what we eat.

So, now I have a new cause for which to fight. And probably lose a little sleep over.  Microplastic pollution.  There’s a lot of information out there, and there are a lot of organizations working on research, education and action. Learn, be informed, inform others!  Think twice about plastics, and leave your own macro-mark on the world.  Oh, and Penny and Chris are using reusable dinnerware for the wedding. So, it looks like I’m making my mark after all.   

For more information on Microplastic Pollution:


Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015:    

Plastic Microbeads 101:

Adventure Science Worldwide Map:

Clean Water Action:

It’s a Fish Thing:


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