the invisible threat
By Alexis Eisenberg
Founder and CEO of Poly-Mer
Technology | Plastic pollution | Entrepreneur
Reading time: About 5 minutes
Text by Alexis Eisenberg
Placed on line 12 June 2020
As part of Oceans Week, the Blue Organization will share stories from our collaborators, to share their stories, both inspiring and instructive. Immerse yourself in our theme of plastic pollution.
Interview with Alexis Eisenberg, founder and managing director of Poly-Mer, a young Quebec company that is developing a method to collect microplastics from water to better understand the extent of their presence, mainly in the St. Lawrence River.
Water pollution from plastic is a growing concern. We talk about it especially for the ocean environment, what is its scope?
The concern is justified since 300 million tonnes are produced by the plastics industry each year to meet global demand ... growing. 8.8 million tonnes (1 elephant = 1 tonne) are found in the waters and oceans of the planet each year. This represents 1 truckload of 15 tonnes of plastic waste which dumps every minute for a year.
The oceans are polluted by waste, such as bottles, buoys, nets and other containers and products (90% are plastic). Of these marine plastics, around 80% are estimated to have been brought to sea by rivers, wind or come from land. These plastics are responsible for the strangulation of marine mammals, accumulating in the digestive system of millions of birds, turtles and whales.
Plastic continues to float more normally. It is fragmented again and again by the action of waves and obstacles which create friction or by the sun which hardens the polymer. The pieces getting smaller and smaller turn into a kind of underwater plastic dust, known as microplastic. This dust continues to affect the living world without us being able to see their presence and what is more, fully understanding their long-term effect.
" There are more microplastics
in our oceans that stars
throughout the galaxy. "
At the microplastic scale, smaller than 2 microns in size, life swarms. Plankton is at the bottom of the food chain, at the microscopic level. He also consumes microplastics as a meal. These tiny particles tend to accumulate toxic agents, such as a sponge (heavy metals, PCB, DDT), while moving up the food chain. That is to say that in addition to consuming plastic, living organisms accumulate more and more toxins.
The microplastics ingested by fish, mussels, crustaceans, or even found in sea salt, are consumed by humans who are located at the end of the food chain. Scientists around the world are currently demonstrating the effects of this phenomenon often described as "from the trash to the table". These very small granules, less than 5 millimeters, there would be more than 5 billion billion on our planet. There are more microplastics in our oceans than stars in the entire galaxy. And we fully produced this problem ourselves!
Are we right to think that this problem is mainly localized in the great oceans?
Unfortunately, this form of pollution is also found in the St. Lawrence River. Scientific publications in recent years confirm this: plastic is everywhere and in large quantities! As much in the Great Lakes as along the St. Lawrence. You may have even witnessed it during a recent coastal trip.
Studies carried out in 2012 show high concentrations of microplastics in the Great Lakes (39 plastic particles found per 100g of sand, Dean et al., 2016). The presence of plastic was found in the sediments of the St. Lawrence through a study conducted by McGill University in 2014: several thousand particles per cubic meter of sediment, a concentration much higher than those of marine sediments than found in the most contaminated areas of the world. However, the St. Lawrence is still under-studied on this question with too little data. Data, however, necessary to trace the source of this pollution and put in place suitable and targeted mitigation measures.
" The microplastics are in the water
what greenhouse gases look like:
diffuse and without any border. "
What has Canada done so far?
Industrialized countries like Canada are part of the problem. They must now also be part of the solution in order to solve the problem. Since July 1, 2018, Canada has applied the Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations, the first big step in the right direction, especially in toothpaste. There are choices of natural exfoliators, such as beads made of bark or fruit stones, sugar, etc. However, microbeads in toiletries are only part of the problem.
There are other sources from our daily life as well as in certain industrial processes, and their use is growing: industrial plastic granules to make thermomolded objects ("pellets"), clothing fibers (eg polyester), cigarette filters, microbeads used in abrasive products, degradation of macroplastics (bottles, bags, etc.). There is still a lot to do.
Since 2018, Canadian regulations have prohibited the manufacture, import and sale of toiletries that contain plastic microbeads, including cosmetics, non-prescription drugs and natural health products.
A start-up based on data sharing!
Poly-Mer proposes the implementation of a participative science project (citizen science) by sampling in order to be able to cover a multitude of watercourses. The idea is to involve local, nautical and ecotourism communities in the gathering of information, while offering a formula at the fraction of the cost vis-à-vis current sampling methods, ie 2% of the cost.
To engage participants in the Poly-Mer Community, we develop and offer innovative and adapted tools, namely a microplastic sampler for small boats (canoe, kayak, low speed vessel) as well as a mobile application linking the collected sample, the Poly-Mer database as well as the interactive maps of our partners for viewing the data collected.
By building this database georeferenced by the proposed approach, Poly-Mer creates a strong link between citizens collecting samples during trips on water, the scientific community surrounding the sampling protocol and laboratory analyzes, and public and private decision-makers wishing to act on the issue of microplastics.
Because we better protect what we know, Poly-Mer offers in its 2019-2021 business plan a collective intelligence approach in terms of open data, citizen involvement and cross-functional collaborations between parties stakeholders, citizens, scientists, decision-makers and industrialists still unaccustomed to working together on issues as complex as pollution by microplastics.
An invitation from Poly-Mer
For citizens: avoid single-use plastics and favor reusable. We will soon work with a partner in this direction to offer other choices. Ask your municipality to participate in the Poly-Mer Community project in order to create data on your outdoor territory.
For municipalities: Learn about this issue and contact us to discuss the Charter, it can be adapted according to your territorial reality and your challenges. It is also a great way to forge a concrete link with your nautical community that has water quality at heart.
For businesses: You are part of the solution and we need you by our side to find solutions and try to eliminate the problem. We are open to discussion, join our cause, be part of the movement.
Entrepreneur | environmentalist
Alexis Eisenberg is the founder and managing director of Poly-Mer, a young Quebec company that is developing a method to collect microplastics from water to better understand the extent of their presence, mainly in the St. Lawrence River. Alexis has a bachelor's degree in oceanography, a master's degree in marine resource management and has been working in the environmental field and more particularly in residual materials management for almost 10 years. The health of the river depends on a better understanding of the ecosystem according to him. Because we protect what we love!