Microplastics are everywhere. Tiny plastic particles, smaller than 5mm in size, have been found in every habitat, in pretty much every creature, and disturbingly, inside us human beings, including inside blood and breast milk.
Microplastics can come from a variety of sources, including:
Microbeads: Tiny plastic beads found in personal care products such as toothpaste, exfoliating scrubs, and shower gels.
Microfibres: Tiny plastic fibres that shed from synthetic clothing when they are washed.
Plastic Pellets: Also known as nurdles, these are raw materials used in the production of plastic products.
Broken Down Plastic Debris: Plastic products that have degraded over time into small particles, such as plastic bags and packaging.
What Harm Do Microplastics Cause?
The harm caused by microplastics is far-reaching and affects both the environment and human health.
Some of the most significant impacts are on the following:
Marine Life: Marine animals often mistake microplastics for food and ingest them. This can lead to physical harm, such as blockages in their digestive system, and can also lead to the release of toxic chemicals. Microplastics can also absorb pollutants from the surrounding water, such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, which can be transferred up the food chain and reach humans.
Water Quality: Microplastics can also negatively impact water quality by altering the chemical composition of water bodies, releasing toxic chemicals and interfering with water filtration systems. This can be harmful to aquatic life and could also have implications for human health.
Soil Health: Microplastics in the soil can reduce the availability of essential nutrients, alter the soil structure, and lead to the spread of toxic chemicals. This can harm plants and animals that rely on the soil for survival, as well as impact the overall health of the soil ecosystem.
Human Health: The impact of microplastics on human health is still largely unknown, but some studies have found that they can release toxic chemicals that can cause harm to human health. In addition, microplastics have been found in human tissues, including in our food, raising concerns about their long-term effects on human health.
Economic Impacts: Microplastics pollution can also have significant economic impacts, such as the cost of cleaning up polluted beaches and waterways, the loss of tourism revenue, and the cost of treating illnesses caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.
How Can We Reduce The Amount of Microplastics?
Given the significant harm caused by microplastics, it is important that we take steps to reduce their presence in the environment. This can be achieved through a variety of measures, including:
Reducing Plastic Use: By reducing our use of single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags, bottles, and packaging, we can help to reduce the amount of microplastics in the environment.
Improving Waste Management: Improving waste management practices, such as increasing recycling rates, reducing litter, and improving the management of plastic waste, can help to prevent microplastics from entering the environment.
Regulating Microbeads: Governments can regulate the use of microbeads in personal care products, such as by banning their use in certain products.
Encouraging Sustainable Fashion: Encouraging the use of sustainable and environmentally-friendly clothing materials, such as natural fibres, can help to reduce the amount of microfibres entering the environment.
Supporting Research: Supporting research into the impact of microplastics on the environment and human health can help us to better understand the harm they cause and inform effective policy and management responses.