Are we getting a side of plastic when we order fish?

Hawaii Fish Eating Plastic
Hawaii Fish Eating Plastic

There's no denying it—the world is addicted to disposable products. But did you know that every year an estimated 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean (and then possibly in that halibut you're ordering off the menu)?

That's what Jo Ruxton has learned during the past eight years while researching her upcoming documentary A Plastic Ocean, which presents her findings: that there is virtually no part of the ocean left untouched by plastic—which creates potential health problems throughout the food chain.

Where does all this plastic live? When we think we're recycling our water bottles and take-out containers, what really happens is that many of them are not recycled at home but shipped to Asia, where, according to Ruxton, only a certain type of plastic is wanted and much of the rest ends up in rivers and, ultimately, oceans. "It's a curse. It doesn't go away," she says.

With so much plastic—literally tons—in the world's oceans, it breaks up over time and into smaller and smaller pieces and mixes with plankton, the source of food for many fish and whales. So are we eating plastic when we eat fish?

According to Ruxton, whatever toxins that may be associated with the plastic are released in the digestive process and end up in fatty tissues of fish. These same toxins have been associated with cancer, autoimmune disease, infertility, developmental disorders, and endocrine disruption.

What can we do? "The biggest danger to our planet is thinking somebody else will save it," says Ruxton. "Just knowing about the issue can change your behavior."

Here are seven small changes Ruxton suggests you make right now to help with the problem.

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