Microplastics - What Are They?

Microplastics - they are everywhere! Why are these tiny-sized plastics a serious problem for the environment? For starters, their size. Microplastics are plastic debris smaller than 5 millimeters. That is the size of an eraser on a pencil.
Did you know that every single plastic ever produced still exists. Let that sink in. And this problem grows each day for the planet. Like it or not, we as a society have only increased our reliance on plastic.
Before we can truly understand how to save the planet, we must learn what microplastics are. And why they are harmful to our health and the environment.

Where Do Microplastics Come From?

Plastic is made to last a long time. Microplastic is exactly what it sounds like. Tiny plastics.
There are two main types of microplastics; primary and secondary. There is another group recently discovered and is mixed between primary and secondary.

Primary Microplastics

Primary Microplastics are used as scrubs or exfoliates in face wash, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Moreover, microplastics are shed from clothing and textiles, like fishing nets. Plastic types include polypropylene, terephthalate, polyethylene, or nylon.
You have probably heard of microbeads. We’re guilty, long before we knew about microplastics. We tried body wash with tiny “exfoliating beads”. Microbeads are a type of primary microplastics. Many countries are taking steps to prohibit the use of microbeads. Many countries have already banned microbeads. The US banned microbeads in the 2015 Microbead-free Water Act.

Secondary Microplastics 

Water bottles, disposable bags, toothbrushes, and other large plastic products break down into smaller parts. These are called Secondary Microplastics. They are the fragmented products plastics. Secondary microplastics are created because of how plastic waste is processed and left to nature.

Where are Microplastics Found?

An estimate suggests that 70-80% of the total ocean microplastics are coming from land while only 20-30% are that of marine sources. Most plastic waste comes from the land. Think cosmetics, clothing lints, and other plastic consumables.

Are Microplastics Harmful? 

You are likely wondering if microplastics are in the environment, are they harmful to my health? The short answer is, possibly yes. Not only do they harm the environment, but they could harm our health. Microplastics end up in the ocean, freshwater, and the land. They can end up in the water we drink or in the food we eat. It is not only animals who are ingesting plastic, but so are we.
Think about it. If microplastics are in water and animals drink the water. That animal is then used for food by us. It’s a chain reaction and we are generally at the top. According to the US Geological Survey, Microplastics are affecting marine life to a great extent and have penetrated 12% of total freshwater fish.
Once microplastics are ingested into our body, they can begin accumulating polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other harmful chemicals that weaken the immune system, reproductive system and can cause more severe diseases such as cancer.

How do Microplastics Affect Human Health?

As far as human health is concerned, scientists tested 114 aquatic species and found microplastics in their organs. It is clear that microplastics are everywhere.
Tim Spector, Professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, suspects that microplastics can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome. As the gut microbiome is linked to the immune system, we can conclude that microplastics have an impact on overall human health.
We need more research to fully understand the risks microplastics pose to human health.

How Much Microplastics Are We Really Ingesting?

A recent study concluded that we are consuming 5g of plastic every week from water. That’s the size of a credit card’s worth of plastic. It is no surprise we are ingesting microplastics in huge quantities. Research published in 2019 calculated that the average American person drinks, eats, and breaths more than 74,000 microplastic particles per year. That’s a lot!
Look at it this way, the whole plastic lifecycle is pretty unhealthy.
  • The production process causes carbon emissions. Which contributes to global warming.
  • When plastic is used, it sheds thousands of particles. Eventually it will end up in the human body.
  • When the whole plastic breaks down, it becomes microplastics. It litters the environment and can end up in the water supply.

How Microplastics are Impacting the Water?

Every day, millions of tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean. That same will plastic turn into microplastics. Well, you know the story by now.
Up to this point we have only discussed products, like microbeads and water bottles. Did you know a single load of laundry can shed 700,000 and 12 million microfiber. Laundry is thought to be responsible for 35% of microplastics in oceans.

What Can We Do To Prevent Microplastics? 

Microplastics are a big problem and should be avoided to save the planet. Microplastics are everywhere and are not biodegradable. Here are a few ways to prevent microplastics from daily life.
  • Instead of using water bottles, buy a charcoal water filter. Each water bottle may transfer hundreds of microplastics into your body. While a charcoal water filter will filter water without any plastic.
  • Buy natural fabrics, like cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Apparel made from polyester and acrylic releases microplastics during washing. As it is non-decomposing, it ends up in the environment and remains forever.
  • Avoid using plastic products such as bags, packaging, and toothbrushes. All alternatives are available in the market. It’s easy to be eco conscious, try a bamboo toothbrush. 
Fear not, there is a solution. And you are part of that solution. Making small changes everyday can lead to big things.
Reducing your plastic usage is the first step in helping the planet. It's crucial to understand the environmental impact of every product we use. From Bamboo Toothbrushes to Plastic-Free Dish Soap. We strive to offer eco alternatives to the everyday. Here at MamaP we make it simple to switch from plastic to natural.

1 comment

Thanks for sharing these insights. I’d no idea we’re ingesting a crazy amount of microplastics each year. Here’s hoping for a plastic free future.

Mandeep January 28, 2021

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