Microplastics = Mega Problems

Written by MjauApril 10, 2017

What do body wash, packing materials, fleece clothing, toothpaste, industrial scrubbers, and tires have in common?

Each of these products – along with hundreds more – either contain or break down into tiny particles of plastic over their lifetimes.

The most known microplastics must be the cosmetic industry’s microbeads, used in a variety of facial scrubs, exfoliants and toothpaste. But do you know that doing laundry has been shown to release tiny plastic fibers (=micro plastics) into the water supply? Or the fact that all manufactured plastic products that have been broken down by weathering and sun exposure breaks down into micro plastics?

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Its as true as it is written and its means trouble. Why is that you might ask?

Well for starters: Microplastics are made up by a number of different chemical compounds based on their origin. Only some of these compounds have been tested for toxicity. A majority of microplastics are petroleum (=raw oil) based. Bad news.

Whats even worse? Scientists have documented the fact that microplastics are capable of absorbing dangerous endocrine disrupting chemicals (BPA, phthalates) and heavy metals in aquatic environments. According to Plastic Oceans Foundation, “When broken down into tiny pieces, plastic attracts toxic chemicals released over decades from industry and agriculture, the concentration of which increases as they move up the food chain.”

The fish eats the planton, you eat the fish.. you get the picture. And also a lot of toxins and chemicals.

BUT WAIT! There’s more..

Research on the effects of microplastics on the environment has increased over the past several years. Studies have shown that deep regions of the ocean serve as huge sinks for these particles, as does Arctic sea ice.

Research also indicate that these microplastic particles may pose significant threats to biodiversity and the food web. In addition to blocking the digestive tract in some species, leading to starvation, microplastics may also leach chemicals into the bloodstream that could potentially cross the blood-brain barrier and lead to neurological damage.

To say it’s a huge problem is an understatement.

Think stunted growth and altered behavioral patterns, such as ignoring the smell of predators and choosing to eat plastics over their primary food source (zooplankton).

Zooplankton, the cornerstone species of the marine food chain, are also heavily impacted by microplastic particles. When zooplankton feed off of these tiny particles, they pass them on to their natural predators, particularly salmon and other large fish species. It’s currently estimated that in some parts of the ocean, these plastic particles outnumber plankton by a ratio of 26:1.

What goes around comes around! This means all the toxins we put out into the environment can come right back to us in the form of fish and seafood, as these animals passively eat bits of plastic around them. At the current time, little is known about whether microplastics pose a danger to human health. I’m pretty confident that we react the same as the fish do, we just need larger quantities.

What can YOU do to stop this madness?

  • Live by the three R’s: Reduce, reuse, recycle! You will halt the demand of plastic by reducing your consumption. Make sure that the plastic that you do buy and use can be reused or recycled to be part of a closed loop system.
  • Stop littering!
  • Recycle!
  • Reduce your use of microbead-containing products (and support ballot initiatives to ban microbeads in your state!)
  • Opt for reusable water bottles and coffee cups.

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featured image credit: Bonnie Monteleone