Plastic pollution is a global issue that is adversely affecting the environment and wildlife. Plastic materials are not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose, resulting in them persisting in the environment for a prolonged period of time.
One of the latest pollution concerns is microplastics, and because of their minute size of less than 5 millimeters, researchers are finding them everywhere from the depths of the ocean to the air we breathe. In this article, we will delve into what microplastics are, their effects on humans and the environment, and how to avoid them.
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic particles that are consequently blended into Earth’s environment from historic plastic use. While some particles are as big as a pencil eraser, others can be mixed in with organic materials like beach sand. At such a minuscule size, these particles are often difficult to detect and remove.
Microplastics in the Ocean
One of the most substantial sources of microplastics is our oceans, where millions of tons of plastic waste are dumped every year. This plastic waste is broken down from UV rays, friction, and other natural factors. The resulting microplastics are then consumed by small marine animals (like zooplankton), and passed on into the food chain.
Plastic in the food chain means that most, if not all, larger marine animals can have significant amounts of plastic in their bodies. The endangered whale shark seems to be one of the most affected species. Their filter-feeding tendencies equates to a higher amount of plastics in their system, and they share a habit in Coral Triangle, a known hotspot for oceanic pollution.
Microplastics in Humans and Food
Not only are microplastics harmful to marine life, but they also pose a risk to humans. Studies have shown that microplastics can be found in food and water, and people are unknowingly consuming them. Seafood like fish and shellfish are the main perpetrators, with studies showing that larger amounts of seafood can have higher levels of microplastics in their bodies. The health effects of microplastics on humans are still not fully understood, but studies have suggested that they could have negative impacts on the immune system and the reproductive system.
How to Avoid Microplastics
It can be challenging to eliminate exposure to microplastics entirely since they are found in many products that we use on a daily basis. However, several measures can be taken to minimize exposure. For instance, we can reduce our usage of single-use plastics such as plastic straws and water bottles and opt for reusable options instead. Natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and linen can be utilized instead of synthetic fibers, which shed more microplastics. Additionally, we can opt for personal care and cleaning products that do not contain microbeads.
Microplastics are an increasing concern that requires immediate attention. These tiny particles are present in our oceans, food, and even in the air we breathe, posing a risk to both humans and the environment. It is crucial to take action and reduce plastic usage while avoiding products that contain microbeads. By doing so, we can assist in decreasing the quantity of plastic pollution and safeguard our oceans and wildlife.