Plastic has been found everywhere scientists have looked, from our drinking water to the Arctic snow, specifically in the form of microplastic. Our collective dependence on plastic needs to stop, let’s take a look at why and how.
What is Microplastic?
What is Microplastic?
Microplastics are any plastic pieces that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter. These microplastics come in two different forms: primary (plastic pieces designed to be >5mm - think microbeads and microfibers from synthetic fabrics), and secondary (larger plastics that are slowly broken down over time by UV light from the sun and ocean waves). Contrary to popular belief, this pollution is not primarily from littering, but from storms, water runoff and dust movement across the globe.
What's The Big Deal?
There hasn’t been any conclusive research about human exposure to microplastics, but there have been a number of studies of mice and critters in the ocean, and their outlook is not good. Organisms that ingest microplastics have been shown to have decreased fertility and grow less since space is taken in their stomachs by nutrient-less plastic.
Even if all plastic production stopped tomorrow, there would still be huge amounts of microplastics continuing to go into our oceans, air and bodies from the existing plastics continuing to break down. A lot of work needs to be done to remedy the existing problems, but we can always work to reduce the amount of plastic we personally contribute!
What Can I Do?
You guessed correctly that cutting down on plastic in your life (especially single-use plastics!) is a great place to start! But you’d be surprised by some of the other major contributors in our homes to microplastics!
Microbeads in beauty supplies (remember the beads that used to be in face scrubs and toothpastes?) were banned in the US by the The Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, but this did not include laundry detergent. Microbeads are still found in many laundry detergents, which go straight into our water systems and aren’t caught by water treatment plants. Speaking of laundry, another major source of microplastic is the microfiber released from clothes made of synthetic fibers when they are washed.
Another surprising source of microplastic is from teabags. A 2019 study found that “11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics were in a single cup of the beverage.” But don’t fret that you can no longer drink tea! Loose leaf tea steeped in metal infusers is plastic free and feels down-right decadent!
Issues like this can feel overwhelming, infuriating and discouraging, but imagine how much of a difference we could make if each of us made one change! What small change can you make today?