Everything You Should Know About Microplastics

 

 

The media is rife with misinformation about microplastics. Now more than ever, it is crucial to develop literacy on climate change and pollution. Take a look at this guide to understanding the fundamentals of microplastics.

 

 

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The topic of Microplastics gets thrown around a lot when it comes to discussions of pollution. There is the general consensus that microplastics are hazardous, however most lack a true understanding of where these substances derive from or to what extent they affect our planet. 

 

WHAT EXACTLY ARE MICROPLASTICS?

Microplastics, as the name implies are small particles of plastic, being less than 0.2 inches in diameter. These particles can be derived from a variety of sources and they do not readily break down. Their long decomposition means that they are capable of wrecking much damage to wildlife, the environment and human beings.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Microplastics derive from two sources: primary and secondary.

 Primary sources of microplastics are found in products designed for commercial use such as cosmetic products. Such products could be mascara, lipstick, foundation and face powders. Facial cleansers with exfoliating beads or “scrubbers” that are meant to replace natural ingredients such as almond shells or pumice, are made from microplastics.  Apart from this, primary microplastics are also produced by air-blasting technology. This is a common process in the production of acrylic, melamine or polyester scrubbers used to clean the rust and paint of machinery.

Secondary microplastics are small pieces of plastic derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris at sea or land. This could be plastic bags, bottles, paints and adhesives, as well as electronics. Overtime, plastic debris can be structurally changed by physical and biological processes like photo-oxidation, caused by exposure to sunlight. The plastic is broken down to tiny fragments and may exist in the ocean or land for ages to come.

 
 
 
 
 
 

ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH IMPACTS

Marine life and other animals often experience the effects of microplastics more significantly than we do. Passive feeders, such small birds or fishes mistake the microplastics for food and ingest them, this can cause gastrointestinal blockades and lacerate their internal organs. Animals that are active feeders consume microplastics by feeding on prey who have ingested the plastic debris.  And on goes the food chain…

 The problem of bioaccumulation when it comes to microplastics has been a major concern for scientists. Bioaccumulation refers to the increase of a pollutant such as microplastics in organisms through the food chain. The concern, specifically, is how much microplastics are humans consuming when they eat fish or any other type of meat? This concern can be easily rectified when we take into account that most cuisine requires for animals to be gutted before being cooked. This means that we avoid a fair amount of the microplastics that animals have accumulated. Our biggest concern shouldn’t be on microplastics infiltrating our daily meals. There is substantial research suggesting that microplastics enter humans through the respiratory system.

 

 Microplastics may not be in our food. However, there is a shocking amount of microplastics in the air that we breathe. 

 

Surface wind circulation can pick up microplastics from the ocean’s surface and transport them high into the atmosphere. The damage of inhaling microplastics manifests with time. For starters, microplastics cause oxidative stress in the airways and lungs, leading to symptoms like coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath, as well as fatigue and dizziness. In the worst cases, it could lead to cancer, asthma attacks and severe health problems.

 
 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

The problem of plastic pollution has long plagued our society and we are all more or less aware of the solution: Cut back on plastic use. This is, however, easier said than done. Much of modern society is based upon plastic, it is in our clothes, cosmetics and packaging. Many large corporations have taken a pledge to ban single-use plastic or to reuse plastic waste. As individuals of society, we have to take upon the responsibility of decreasing our dependence on plastic products.

 The issues of pollution and global warming are political hot potatoes. While there is copious amounts of research emerging on the effects of pollution on the environment and human health, there is also a significant amount of misinformation, which causes misunderstanding. Now more than ever, it is imperative to develop an understanding of issues like microplastics so that we can better understand the steps we need to take in order to better our world.

 
 
 

+ Highlight Image: © Teslariu Mihai via Unsplash

+ Words

Liza Silva
Luxiders Magazine