FreeWord – Microplastics

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Hello folks! It’s time to dig into the world of Microplastics.

Microplastic pollution is real. As of today, tiny bits of plastic have been showing up in unlikely places – particles blow to the peaks of our mountain ranges and swirl hundreds of meters deep in our oceans. None of the parts of our planet will be saved from being contaminated by this fate – microplastics are here to stay.

Basics

Microplastic – refers to any type of plastic particle or fiber that measures 5 millimeters or less in diameter. Since microplastics do not dissolve in water, it can be found as litter in our oceans and other waterways. In the beginning, microplastics are usually part of a larger piece, such as a car tire that breaks into tinier fragments over time.

Microplastics are categorized into two main groups according to their origin – primary and secondary. The difference between primary and secondary microplastics is based on whether the particles were initially manufactured to be that size (primary) or whether they have resulted from the breakdown of larger items (secondary).

Omnipresence

Unlike some of us think, microplastic pollution is not just in the middle of the ocean. Tiny particles not only migrate by land and water, but they are airborne as well – air has been the microplastics pathway spreading it to the remotest parts of our planet and research has shown that plastics and especially microplastics are present in all environmental compartments today. Wherever we look, we have the likelihood of encountering plastic.

Microplastic Cycle

The microplastic cycle is something that has real permanent damage to not only the marine life in the oceans but also to us, humans. It all starts by humans, producing hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year, most ending up tossed in our oceans. Microplastics will eventually accumulate up in the food chain, all the way back to your plate and is potentially impacting whole ecosystems. As of today, the sad fact is, the majority of the world does not have the resources to properly deal with the amount of plastic we produce, which eventually results in this microplastic cycle.

Marine Life Impact

Our society has survived throughout the history of humankind by preserving our oceans and marine life. Our future is at stake as microplastics enter every level of the food chain in aquatic ecosystems. The impact of microplastics hits hardest on marine life – over 100 million marine animals are killed each year from plastic debris.

Despite the significant impact of microplastics, we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the marine life exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. However, we do know that ingested microplastic particles can physically damage organs and extract hazardous chemicals – which compromise immune functions, growth, and reproduction. Both microplastics and other chemicals will eventually accumulate up in the food chain. The following picture illustrates the amount of plastic in our oceans.

Human Exposure

Although plastic products have been a persuasive part of modern life for more than half a century, the science of plastic exposure is still immature.

Microplastics are threatening people more directly than we know. A study published last year found particles and microfibers in packaged sea salt, beer, bottled water, and tap water, proving that we are certainly ingesting microplastics. This shows that the mismanagement of our waste is coming back to us. Microplastics do not only enter our bodies through food manufacturing but from the polluted soils where we grow our food too. The problem doesn’t just end up with ingesting plastic-infused nutrients; the particles are blowing in the air, so we’re breathing microplastic as well. 

We could be facing an even worse problem from airborne nanoplastics which are so tiny they’re virtually invisible, and this is a subject which we have no knowledge about so far. Due to their size, they can potentially enter the human bloodstream and single cells.

Health Impacts

The implications for human health are potentially huge. Currently, we don’t know much about the microplastics effect on the human body, and there are a lot of concerns because we know we have been exposed for a while already. At least we’re finally trying to understand what the consequences are.

Studies have found some physical and chemical effects from microplastic exposures, but the findings vary by plastic-type, shape, and size, and the health impacts of inhaled microplastics are even less well known. More research is needed to understand the potential health effects of exposure to not only microplastics but also nanoplastics – these small airborne particles are known to lodge deep in the lungs where they can cause several serious diseases, including cancer.

Conclusion

Even if we stopped using plastics today, oceans would remain polluted for centuries. The solution for this global crisis is not simple; it requires numerous right steps. We could start by securing recycling resources for all countries in need and cleaning the ocean’s surface. A government commitment and new laws need to take place in order to stop us from releasing more plastics into our ecosystem.

Even one eco-friendly person may have a minor impact on our society, but we have to remember that significant changes start with the smallest of steps, and the steps we can achieve together are remarkable!


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Picture credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/boyce-d/32646574467/in/photostream/ https://cosmeticsinfo.org/sites/default/files/Plastics%20in%20the%20Marine%20Enivronment.jpg

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