Microplastics and How to Tackle Them?

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Microplastics and How to Tackle Them?

The term ‘microplastics’ introduced in the first decade of this millennium. Microplastics believed to accumulate in the environment as a consequence of plastic pollution. Plastics consist of carbon and hydrogen atoms bound together in polymer chains.  Microplastics (tiny particles of plastics) derived from plastics also have a similar structure. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles up to 5 mm in diameter. 

Their concentration in the environment has increased significantly in the last few decades. Due to their widespread presence, they believed to have found their way into the food system. But its impact on the health of human beings and the environment still not fully understood.

Unlike the larger plastics found on beaches and floating on the surfaces. Microplastics are less visible and more pervasive and spread into virtually all parts of the environment. From the deepest sea trenches to the highest mountains. Some microplastics are so tiny they form part of the dust that blows around the planet, high in the atmosphere.

The magnitude of the problem 

  • In 2015, the yearly flow of plastic waste into the oceans from the world’s coastal regions estimated to an average of 8.8 million tons. A major portion of it includes four prime sources of microplastics: tires, production pallets, textiles, and microbeads.
  • The continual fragmentation makes it hard to calculate how many microplastics are floating in the ocean today. Mostly the records are all about how much plastic is on the surface. Research in 2014 put the figure between 5.25 and 50 trillion pieces. More recent research places the figure at between 12.5 and 125 trillion particles—at least twice as high as the earlier figure.
  • Scientists have long recognized the seafloor as a major sink for microplastics. But little known about their concentration and distribution there. Powerful bottom currents play a crucial role in concentrating microplastics in specific hot spots—seafloor versions of the floating “garbage patches”. 
  • Studies on the Mediterranean seafloor revealed that a single square meter held up to 1.9 million microplastics. Microplastics detected on river beds too. 
  • These hotspots are also key habitats for sponges, cold corals, and ascidians or “sea squirts,” which are especially vulnerable to microplastics because they are filter-feeders. How Micro-plastic is getting into the ocean

Sources of microplastics

Microplastics are present in a variety of products such as cosmetics, synthetic clothing, plastic bags, and bottles. Many of these products readily enter the environment as wastes.

Microplastics basically divided into two types: 

Primary

Primary microplastics intentionally manufactured small. They enter the environment directly through product use such as personal care products washed away into wastewater systems from households or by unintentional loss from spills during washing (e.g., laundering of clothing made with synthetic textiles).  

Secondary

Secondary microplastics form from the breakdown of larger plastics. This can be by weathering of plastic materials through exposure to waves, wind or sunlight, in the oceans and elsewhere in the environment. Over time, the fragments become smaller and smaller. These can survive for centuries.

Micro-plastics can also be formed by:

Environmental actions 

As the plastic waste and debris float around the ocean, they exposed to the elements of harsh solar radiation and constant abrasion from the action of wind and water waves. Over time, these elements break down the plastics into smaller chunks of debris and the cycle continues on and on until the remaining debris becomes microscopic. 

Man-made actions

The other source of micro-plastics is in the manufacturing of small micro-beaded plastic. Broadly, used in the skincare and hygiene industry, where small plastic microbeads added to products such as shower gels to improve their abrasive qualities.

Why is microplastic harmful to Mankind?

  • Microplastics are not biodegradable. Once in the environment, they accumulate and persist there. Microplastics present everywhere in environments, including oceans and freshwater ecosystems.
  • In the ocean alone, annual plastic pollution estimated at 4 million to 14 million tons including all types of plastics. From the marine and freshwater ecosystems, microplastics enter aquatic species. Microplastics have been found lodged in the digestive tracts and tissues of various invertebrate sea animals, including crustaceans such as crabs
  • Microplastics also are a source of air pollution, occurring in dust and airborne fibrous particles. The adverse health effects of microplastics inhalation are still unknown. But believed that capable of chronic lung diseases.
  • Plastic fragments alter the structure and chemistry of the soil. Additives, such as phthalates, have been linked to soil contamination. Crops grown in soil containing plastic debris have a lower yield, height, and root weight. Studies have found that plastic pollution has decreased cotton yields in China.
  • Fish and birds are likely to ingest microplastics floating on the water surface, mistaking the plastic bits for food. The ingestion of microplastics can cause aquatic species to consume less food that results in neurological and reproductive toxicity. Microplastics are suspected of working their way up the marine food chains, from zooplankton and small fish to large marine predators.
  • Microplastics have been detected in drinking water, beer, and food products, including seafood and table salt. A lot of plastic found in the stomach of stray animals like dogs and cows. Scientists have also detected microplastics in human tissues and organs. According to recent news, Microplastics revealed in the placenta of an unborn baby for the first time. Researchers said that it is a matter of great concern
Source: Guardian

Micro-plastic affects human and animal health

1. Choking Hazards

As the environmental actions continue to break down the micro-plastic into more tiny particles, they become hazardous for fishes and other land animals too. they got stuck into their gills and they died because of suffocation.

2. Ingestion into body

Microplastics can enter our bodies through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact. Ingestion largely occurs through microplastics entering our natural environment and ending up in our water systems via a number of routes, including surface run-off, wastewater, pollution in the atmosphere, plastic wastage, and plastic bottles and cups. 

3. Attached to body fats

Microplastics are harmful to the inner body mechanism of fishes too. They attached strongly to the fatty acids and lipid layers within the body that means once the microplastics find their way to the body, it is very difficult to get eliminate. As a result, it poses even more dangers to the survival of the aquatic fishes

How to tackle the problem of microplastics?

  • United Nations Expert Panel of the United Nations Environmental Programme has started engaging various countries in educational campaigns. Aiming at raising awareness of plastics pollution and encouraging the reuse and recycling of plastics. 
  • In 2015 the United States passed the microbead-free waters act. It prohibits the manufacture and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics products that contain plastic microbeads. Many other countries also placed bans on microbeads. But according to calculations less than half of the countries in the world involved in such activities. 
  • Microorganisms capable of breaking down synthetic microplastic polymers used as a method to tackle microplastics pollution. Certain bacteria and fungi have such biodegradation capabilities that they can break down chemicals such as polystyrenepolyester polyurethane, and polyethylene. Such microorganisms could apply to sewage wastewater and other contaminated environments.

Tips to decrease the risk of microplastic in your daily life

Source: Coastkeeper

Switch to plastic-free makeup

You don't need to avoid makeup completely but you should avoid those products that having microplastic. Beat the Microbead has a handy list of sustainable plastic-free alternatives.

Reduce your plastic footprint

As we all already know about the 3 R's as 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle'. we should better focus on reducing and reusing because these two have a better impact to decrease your plastic footprint. Firstly you can use a reusable water bottle replacing single-use plastic, secondly, replace your plastic containers in the kitchen with glass ones or other materials like wood and last but not the least you can use better eco-friendly options replacing plastic for your bathroom and kitchen like bamboo toothbrushes, detergent, bamboo ladle holders, etc

Wash your clothes less often

Clothing made of polyester, lycra, nylon, or rayon is made of synthetic fibers. So your gym clothes, fleece jackets, leggings have been made from synthetic fibers. In the washing machine, they shed as many as 700,000 particles of microfibres per cycle. Certainly, microplastics are mainly shed when washing synthetic garments, doing your laundry less often can help you reduce them. You can also use washing machines with filters. Moreover, clothes made from natural fibers such as organic cotton can be used.

Beads-free Toothpaste

Similar to cosmetic products, whitening toothpaste contains microbeads that you may swallow when you brush. You can make toothpaste at home by mixing baking soda, salt, and water or you can buy an organic toothpowder here.

Use kettle for tea/coffee

Studies revealed that higher-end "silk" tea bags released microplastics into the brew. Generally, teabags are made of paper or plastic to make them durable. It's better to use the traditional method to brew tea/coffee in a kettle or you can get a stainless steel steeper.

Buy a water filter

Avoid using bottled water, better to buy a water filter. it reduces your carbon footprint and decreases the load of single-use plastic from the earth. Most carbon block filters with a micron rating of 2 or less will remove microplastics. There are water filters available in the market that have coconut shell carbon filtering having no negative impact on the environment

Indeed, you can not eliminate the plastic from earth but following these basic steps you can at least decrease your plastic footprint and avoid the entry of microplastics into our environment. we should all think about the big picture. No place left without microplastics, from the top of Mount Everest to the bed of the ocean, it is everywhere and harming the environment as well as the human body. It's high time to take some action getting over this problem. Say NO to PLASTIC.

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