“There is more microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.” - Anonymous.
As per facts, “ Since the 1960s, plastic production has increased by around 8.7% annually. Today, it is a $600 billion global industry whose life-cycle end is accountable for approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the oceans annually.” It makes it very clear that plastic is all around us.
But, do you know? Without even knowing it, we consume a lot of it in our daily lives. You must be thinking, how can someone eat plastic without even knowing? My dear friend, the plastic you consume cluelessly is microplastic. I know it might be a little shocking for you, but it is true!
There is a lot of microplastic around you, and today, I am here to tell you everything you must know about microplastic, its impact on nature and our lives.
What are Microplastics?
The plastic pieces measuring less than five millimeters across are called microplastics. For a visual representation, you can think of a sesame seed. These are generally generated from the large plastic debris that degrades into smaller pieces. These are not only damaging the environment but also marine life and human beings.
Types of Microplastics
Microplastics are divided into two categories:
Primary microplastics are directly designed for commercial purposes. These are found in personal care products, plastic petals, synthetic clothes, and many more.
Secondary microplastics are generally formed by the breakdown of original plastic into millions of smaller pieces.
A study published in the Journal of Macromolecular Science states, “ The extent of plastic degradation depends on factors such as polymer type, age, and environmental conditions like temperature, weathering, irradiation, and pH.”
Effects of Microplastics on the Environment
These small pieces of plastic bring a set of issues and harmful effects to the environment. These are non-biodegradable, making the environment toxic. A lot of microplastics are found in water and the ocean, affecting marine life.
According to a McKinsey study, “ Discarded plastic materials enter the marine environment as trash, industrial discharge of litter via inland waterways, wastewater outflows, and wind transport vehicles. 25% of land-based discharge comes from within the waste management system, the largest slice, 75% is an uncollected waste.”
By 2018, microplastics had been found in more than 114 aquatic species combined in freshwater and marine ecosystems. These have been found in the digestive tracts of marine animals, including fish, seabirds, and crabs.
Apart from aquatic communities, these microplastics have introduced a range of issues into land-based ecosystems. Such as influencing organism behavior, causing climate change, contaminating groundwater, and polluting food sources.
Effects of Microplastics on Human Health
Humans ingest microplastics by eating marine animals that have consumed them. But, even if you don’t eat seafood, you have already come into contact with microplastics through drinking water or the air you breathe.
According to a study from the Environmental Science and Technology journal, “Human microplastic ingestion ranges between 39,000 to 52,00 particles annually, depending on sex and age group." Microplastic consumption leads to behavioral changes, increased blood pressure, endocrine disruption, and neurodevelopmental dysfunction, liver, and kidney damage in humans.
Where have Microplastics been found so far?
All the plastic ever created still exists in some form or another. These tiny plastic particles have been found in different things and products.
Microplastics found In Tea Bags
According to 2019, peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Science and Technology,
“Steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature (95 degrees Celsius) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics into a single cup of beverage."
Microplastics Found In Bottled Water
According to a study conducted by Orb Media at the Fredonia State University of New York labs, “ A liter of bottled water has around 10.4 tiny plastic particles inside that people swallow when they are drinking.”
Microplastics Found In Rain
In 2019, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey ( USGS) found plastics in about 90% of the rainwater collected from six sites in the Denver-Boulder urban corridor and two adjacent sites in the Colorado Front Range. The report was entitled, “It Is Raining Plastic.”
Microplastics Found In Air
In 2010 a study published by Nature Geoscience proved that there are pieces of microplastics in atmospheric air. The study found tiny pieces of plastic pollution raining down from the sky at a daily rate of 365 microplastic particles per square meter. The team also suggested microplastics can move and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport.
Microplastics found in Human Body
Scientists from Hull York Medical Scholl and the University of Hull have found thirty-nine microplastics in 11 of the 13 lung tissue samples tasted. Apart from lungs, microplastics have also been found in human cadaver autopsy and human feces.
Microplastics found in Marine Animals
According to a 2016 UN report, “ Over 800 animal species have been contaminated with plastics via ingestion or entanglement. Of these 800 species, 220 have been found to ingest microplastic debris.”
What can we do?
Your small changes can play a big part in reducing the number of microplastics on land, in the air, and in global waters. It will not only repair the environment but also help you live a sustainable life. You can start with the following steps:
Use ceramic or glass containers as an alternative to plastic containers.
Ditch plastic water bottles and start using reusable glass, stainless steel, or silicone bottles.
Buy clothes made from natural materials like wool and silk instead of nylon, polyester, and other synthetic fibers.
Use plastic-free cosmetic products.
Switch to a vegan diet. It will help you to limit your microplastic ingestion and will also help you to live a healthy lifestyle.
Replace your tea bags with the loose-leaf variety.
Support policies that seek to limit single-use plastics.
These tiny particles are a big problem around the globe. Organizations like the United Nations Environmental Programmer have engaged more than a hundred countries in educational campaigns aimed at raising awareness of plastic pollution and encouraging the recycling of plastics. Even so, the UK banned all products containing microbes in 2018.
Policymakers have started taking action to reduce microplastic pollution by nearly 400,000 tonnes from 2030 to 2050. But it is not only the responsibility of organizations and the government; we should also take small steps to get rid of microplastics.
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