Microplastics - Far from a micro concern

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. When larger pieces of plastic break apart, they form microplastics. In the past few years, nanoplastics have been gaining more attention. Those are pieces of plastic smaller than a few micrometres and they are extremely difficult to isolate, even with filtration methods [2].

Micro- and nanoplastics can come from things such as personal care products with those little ‘peeling’ beads in them, such as cleansers and toothpastes, or from microfibers off our clothes [1].

Why is It a Problem?

The average European ingests about 11 000 plastic particles per year from eating seafood.

Any animal, from zooplankton, fish and seabirds, to turtles, whales and humans, can ingest microplastics. They carry pollutants and toxins and can have negative effects on things such as growth and reproduction [1].

Just this year (2019) a study found that we could be eating as much as 5g of microplastics each week. That’s roughly the same as eating a credit card each week [3].

Drowning in It!

It’s not only in the food we eat, but also in our drinking water [4]!

Treated tap water and bottled water can contain micro- or nanoplastics. Microplastics usually are ingested and can get stuck in your gut; nanoplastics are small enough to be absorbed even further into tissue. However, this is hard to study, and research is only just starting to try and figure out what potential harm is associated with this [2].

What Can We Do?

There are plenty of very simple things you can take to help reduce the amount of microplastics [5,6]:

  • Don’t buy products with excessive plastic packaging
  • Choose glass, metal, or stainless steel containers especially over plastic bottles
  • Reuse and recycle
  • Don’t buy personal care products that contain microplastics (such as face scrubs or toothpaste)
  • Buy clothing made from natural fibres as synthetics shed plastic particles during each wash!
  • Sign up for a local cleanup

References:

1: Marine Conservation Society (2019) Microplastics. https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/microplastics
2: Nature Nanotechnology (2019) Nanoplastic should be better understood. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-019-0437-7.pdf
3: de Wit W, Bigaud N (2019) No plastic in nature: assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people. Analysis for WWF. https://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/plastic_ingestion_web_spreads.pdf
4: World Health Organization (2019) Microplastics in drinking-water. https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/microplastics-in-drinking-water/en/
5: Rennie M (2017) Microplastics: what are they and what can we do about them? https://www.iisd.org/blog/microplastics-what-are-they-and-what-can-we-do-about-them
6: Hutchinson B (unknown) 7 ways to reduce ocean plastic pollution today. https://www.oceanicsociety.org/blog/1720/7-ways-to-reduce-ocean-plastic-pollution-today

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