Greenpeace report identifies growing risk of plastic in seafood

Publication date: 25th August 2016

Just a day after a cross-party group of MPs called on the Government to ban microbeads, a new Greenpeace report lays out the science on the impact of microplastics, including microbeads, on our oceans and our seafood.

The report, which collates the latest academic research, identifies the risks of these tiny plastics spreading toxic chemicals, being eaten by marine life and even travelling up the food chain to the seafood on our plates.

Plastic litter in the ocean is a fast growing problem, with large items, such as packaging, breaking down into so-called microplastics. Microbeads are unique in that they are manufactured at a tiny size for use in a range of household products. The study reveals that the potential consequences of both of these types of microplastic to human health are greatly under-researched.

Greenpeace is urging the Government to take the first step in tackling ocean plastic pollution by banning microbeads, both due to the damage they cause to marine life and as a precautionary measure against the risk of human consumption.

‘As more and more research shows that microplastics can harm marine life and even end up on our dinner plates, a ban on microbeads is a simple way for Theresa May’s Government to show that they take the effects of plastic pollution on marine life and human health seriously,’ said Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

Once in the ocean, microplastics can both attract and leach out toxic chemicals and be consumed by marine life. In some cases, juvenile fish have even been shown to prefer plastic to their natural food source. The report presents evidence of microplastics appearing in seafood and while the effects on human health remain unclear, Greenpeace argues that a prolonged industry-led phase out of microbeads simply isn’t good enough.

Louise Edge continued:

‘An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enters our ocean every year, and whether it is in the form of microbeads or throwaway plastic packaging, the science shows us that it’s a toxic time bomb. We need action now to stem this tide of plastic waste and an easy first step is to stop companies deliberately putting tiny plastics into products. Theresa May’s Government needs to take the bull by the horns now and bans microbeads outright’

Notes to editor

[1] The full report, Plastics in Seafood, produced by Greenpeace Research Laboratories, can be accessed here:

For images, see:

[2] A recent Greenpeace East Asia report ranked the 30 largest cosmetics and personal care companies on their microbeads commitment, finding that not one had a satisfactory plan in place for dealing with the issue:

[3] The report identifies mounting evidence of the harm caused by plastic in our oceans, including:

One study in 2008 found common mussels were shown to retain microplastics in the gut which then transferred into the animal’s circulatory system (p. 11)

A 2013 field sample showed 1 in 3 fish caught in the English Channel contained microplastics in their gut (p. 9)

In 2015, microplastics in the gut of mullet fish were observed to move from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver tissue of the fish (p. 11)

[4] The Greenpeace Research Laboratories form the Science Unit of Greenpeace International. Based at the University of Exeter in the UK, the laboratories provide scientific advice and analytical support to Greenpeace offices worldwide, over a range of disciplines.