How Your Tires Are Harming Marine Life
By: Gabriel Vito (Estimated reading time: 4min)
The emission source we are not talking about
Back in 2014, Dr. John Weinstein was studying microplastics at Charleston Harbor, S.C.
Weinstein and his students were researching microplastics along the harbor. But they found more than what they were expecting.
They found plenty of microplastics from broken-down plastic bags. But they reported that the majority of the microplastics in the area were made up of black particles.
“More than half of the pieces were black, tubular, and microscopic, with no obvious origins.”
They found that these black particles came from a rubber material. These particles must have ended up along the shore as a result of drainage from the streets over time.
Introducing a new discussion on microplastics: Tire Pollution.
So, What is Tire Pollution?
Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length. These particles are remains of larger plastic items that have broken down over time.
Most recorded microplastics derive from clothing, vehicle tires, bags, and other discarded waste.
Biologist, Alexander Turra, claims that marine organisms often consume these pollutant particles. This contaminates their nervous and hormonal systems.
But plastics themselves aren’t doing all the harm. Plastics absorb poisonous organic compounds and then, they’re consumed by marine life. This spreads from organism to organism as they eat one another.
The bacteria from plastics hinders their growth, mobility, and reproduction.
According to research, America produces 1.8 million tons of microplastics each year from tires. Exactly how much of that waste ends up in waterways depends on many factors.
How Exactly Does Tire Pollution Occur?
A report in 2013 explained that light truck tires lose 2.5 pounds worth of rubber over the course of 6 years.
Every tire on the planet adds about 2 pounds of rubber into the ocean.
According to studies, emissions from tire wear are blown from the street into the air.
“The small particles are probably more important in terms of health and ecological consequences. You inhale them and then the small particles could enter your blood vessels.” Said Andreas Stohl from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.
At the moment, there aren’t many studies around tire pollution and its effects on humans. Airborne microplastics receive less attention than those in rivers and oceans. This is mainly because they’re small and difficult to detect when in the air.
Over time, tire residue in the air begins to settle on our roads, mountains, and rivers. When it rains, these microplastics are pushed through gutters and into the ocean.
So, why is it harmful to our Oceans?
Studies have found microplastics harming the digestive system of marine life. This affects small and large organisms from tiny zooplankton to whales and sharks.
A study from the Environmental Pollution Journal found that microplastics transfer from one organism to another. Scientists refer to this process as trophic transfer. In this study, one-third of mackerels eaten by seals contained microplastics. So, microplastics consumed by smaller organisms appear in larger marine predators.
According to The Guardian, microplastic pollution affects all parts of the planet. This includes a wide range of terrains including alpine soils, arctic snow, and oceans.
There is even evidence of microplastics in the fish humans are eating today.
What Can We Do About It?
For decades we have studied pollution that comes from the exhaust pipes of our vehicles. Today we are more educated and it’s time to consider more than just exhaust pollution. We need to also recognize non-exhaust emissions (N.E.E.) from tires and brake wear.
At the moment tire wear is not regulated. According to Tire Technology International, a way to reduce tire pollution is to create high-quality tires. This includes drivers keeping their tires inflated to the correct PSI. This reduces the amount of wear and tear.
Another possible solution is a redesign of tires. A study from the University of Minnesota found a way to produce rubber from natural sources instead of fossil fuels. In 2019, Goodyear released a new tire concept with moss in the middle, designed to soak up carbon dioxide.
The number of studies towards the improvement of tire production is growing. But studies show that reducing tire wear would affect performance metrics, resulting in tires with less traction. This would be difficult for manufacturers, as tires may not be as safe if the design changes.
Weinstein suggests road maintenance may be the best way to tackle this problem. This way the quality of cars doesn’t deter.
Weinstein has suggested making road surfaces more abrasive to reduce tire wear particles. Another solution Weinstein suggests is to collect tire runoff from roads.
What Ocean Blue Project is doing to Solve This Problem
Ocean Blue Project is now aware of tire pollution. We combat this problem by cleaning up our oceans and gutters from plastic pollutants.
OBP is proud to host community cleanups. We work together to clean microplastics from our oceans. By continuing to do so, we know we are saving the lives of our ocean-friends.
At OBP, we also focus on education. Our articles inform our members of the best practices to help keep our oceans clean. We also created Ocean Blue School. Ocean Blue School offers unique education on sustainability to individual schools (k-12).
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