Water Resources Center & the Case for Reducing Plastic Use

Authorized by Congress as one of the nation’s 54 water resources research institutes, the Water Resources Center (WRC) at the University of Minnesota provides research, education, and community outreach across a broad spectrum of global water issues. The center also oversees community-based programs and training related to water.
We spoke with Jeff Peterson, director of the WRC, to learn more about some of the critical water issues facing our world today, as well as the type of work being done by scientists and researchers at the WRC. One of the priorities of the WRC is bringing together researchers from multiple subject areas to investigate water issues together.
Plastics in our water is one issue Jeff highlighted as particularly worrying to researchers and scientists today. Plastic contamination in water poses a health risk to marine and human life alike. Plastic fibers, for example, have been found in tap water worldwide, with one study finding plastic fibers in 83 percent of the samples tested worldwide. In that same study, the United States was found to have the highest contamination rate, with 94 percent of samples tested showing plastic fiber contamination.
In addition, scientists estimate 8 million metric tons of plastic are making its way into our oceans every year. Marine life can become entangled in this plastic debris, or accidentally eat it. As NOAA, a leading oceanic research organization, points out in a helpful article with infographic: “Plastics are the most common form of marine debris. They can come from a variety of land and ocean-based sources; enter the water in many ways; and impact the ocean and Great Lakes. Once in the water, plastic debris never fully biodegrades.”
If you are looking at a simple way to make a positive impact on the future of our water, we recommend reducing, or ideally eliminating, the use of single-use plastics, and working to educate others in your community about their dangers of plastics to our environment, as well.
Other major concerns related to water worldwide include agricultural runoff, aquatic invasive species, toxic algal blooms, stormwater runoff, and chloride contamination. You can learn more about these issues by viewing additional Changing Earth videos below:
  • Video 1
  • Video 2

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