Plastic pollution and microplastics are devastating to the earth – and it’s getting worse. We’re all familiar with the startling images of oceans filled with dirty plastic packaging.
Did you know that much of the problem stems from microplastics? They pose their own set of dangers to the environment, animals, and people. In this post, we’ll explore where microplastics come from and their risks.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are now found almost everywhere on earth. Officially, they are tiny fragments of plastic less than 0.2 inches in size.
Many industries produce microplastics for use in products. You can find microbeads in face scrubs, microfibers in man-made fabrics, and particles from car tires.
But tiny plastic particles don’t always start small. Many microplastics started their life as larger plastic waste such as water bottles, cutlery, and packaging. Over time, with radiation and weathering, they break down into microscopic pieces.
How harmful are microplastics to the environment?
They are a major cause of pollution, accounting for a tenth of the world’s ocean plastic pollution.
Plastic has catastrophic effects on our environment. Wildlife can accidentally ingest microplastics they can’t digest, causing malnutrition. Some plastics bind with toxic chemicals before they’re eaten by animals, leading to diseases and death.
Even if we stopped littering and polluting with new plastics, it would still take decades for the current plastics to decompose. Much of the damage is already done.
The nature of the plastic particles means they’re difficult to study, as they come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. It makes documenting their effects even more of a challenge for researchers.
What impact do microplastics have on humans?
It’s virtually impossible to get away from microplastics. They’re everywhere, from the oceans to deserts and in our homes. The air, our food, and even drinking water contain small amounts of plastic particles we ingest.
Although the effects of microplastics are hard to study on humans, we do know they could have negative consequences. Researchers are concerned about nanoplastics – the smallest particles of all – as they can enter cells and potentially affect how they operate.
Microplastics we breathe in could irritate lungs and airways.
Larger fragments can pose serious hazards, too. Manufacturers of plastic add toxic chemicals which may affect the hormone levels in our bodies.
Published studies on the effects on humans are still limited. The research performed on human cells and in mice has shown some levels of inflammation.
How can we reduce the risks of microplastics?
Awareness and education on microplastics and their environmental impact are vital. To help you make positive changes, The Tomorrow Foundation focuses on inspiring action and teaching communities about the importance of tackling pollution.
Reducing your plastic consumption is where you can start. Opt for reusable, eco-friendly materials such as bamboo and glass. Recycle single-use plastic when it’s not possible to eliminate them.
Make sure to buy beauty products free from microplastics. Instead, use natural fibers such as walnut shells.
If you can, buy ingredients that come loose instead of wrapped in plastic, doing away with plastic trays and film.
Finally, if you can, spread the word about the harm that plastic causes our world. Arrange a local beach cleanup operation or community event.
Microplastics pose a serious risk to our environment, the health and longevity of marine life, and potentially to humans.
We need more studies to confirm researchers’ worries about micro and nanoplastics, though the potential risks are worrying.
Education and awareness about plastic pollution can help you make positive changes. Visit tomorrowfoundation.org to learn more.