Microplastics have been around for some time, but are now getting more attention.
Microplastics are plastic particles, about 5 millimeters or less (smaller than a pea). Common types of plastic include polyethylene (plastic bottles and bags), polystyrene (plastic cutlery, CDs), nylon (umbrellas, clothing), and PVC. Other sources include synthetic clothes and textiles (polyester and anything with spandex), diapers, wipes, tampons, and cigarette butts. In the environment, these plastic items break down due to heat exposure, oxidation, UV light, and mechanical action which ultimately leads to microplastic formation.
Microplastics also include microbeads which can be found in cosmetics and other health products like toothpaste. However, the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015 prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of these products with microbeads. Manufacturers were given various compliance deadlines since President Obama signed the bill. The last deadline was July 1, 2019, so today, these products should be microbead free - although it is best to check your own products.
One study found microplastics in 12% of sampled freshwater fish.
Why should we be concerned?
Plastic products can break down in the environment creating microplastics that can reach water resources. Microplastics can also pass through sewage treatment plants. Small organisms ingesting microplastics could starve which would affect the food chain. If these small organisms are ingested by larger organisms, trophic transfer occurs, where the microplastics move up the food chain. Do you enjoy eating fish? One study found microplastics in 12% of sampled freshwater fish. Higher percentages have been found in some oceanic wildlife. Much more studies need to be done to determine the effects on human health, but you should be aware of this while you enjoy your flounder dinner.
We can all do our part by reducing our use of plastics.
Buy clothing made with natural fibers like cotton
Bring water in a reusable bottle instead of buying plastic ones
Buy fresh produce that is not wrapped in plastic and buy food in bulk
Shop with reusable bags
Organize stream and roadside cleanups
Make your own cleaning products such as using vinegar and baking soda