In previous blogs we’ve told you about how plastic pollution negatively impacts the environment, but what is microplastic pollution and what is it doing to the earth?
What is Microplastic Pollution?
They are not a new type of plastic, but small fragments of plastics of any type. It can take thousands of years for plastic to decompose on its own, however, external (water, sunlight, etc) factors break plastic into smaller pieces, creating microplastics. For a piece of plastic to be considered a microplastic, it must be between 5 millimeters and 100 nanometers across. Many microplastics are imperceptible to the human eye, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there!
Microplastic pollution has been debated among environmentalists for many years. In January 2019, a comprehensive study revealed that microplastics are present in every part of the environment, classifying them as a global environmental problem.
Why is Microplastic Pollution Harmful?
Microplastic pollution is an especially harmful type of pollution, because of its nearly invisible nature. Since microplastics are so small, it is nearly impossible to remove them from the oceans.
Microplastic pollution is harmful for both humans and animals alike. Annually, over 100,000 marine organisms are killed due to microplastic pollution. Microplastics pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean, where aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food. Once these organisms consume the microplastic (either directly or indirectly), they become contaminated by the toxins in the plastic.
Although there is scientific uncertainty when it comes to certain aspects of microplastic pollution, there is solid evidence that shows humans are similarly impacted, when they consume contaminated fish. As microplastics move up a food web, the toxins become more concentrated, so when the fish makes it to your plate on the table, there’s a good chance some of what you’re eating is microplastics. Frequent consumption of contaminated food can cause various health complications.
How are Microplastics Created?
There are two types of microplastics; primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are microplastics that are produced that way originally. Microbeads are a kind of primary microplastic that are very small pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic added to health and beauty products as exfoliants (think of the plastic beads in exfoliating hand soaps and body washes). Secondary microplastics are microplastics that originate from bigger plastic debris that breaks down into smaller and smaller bits.
One of the biggest known sources of microplastics in the food production system is bottled water. When scientists reviewed a range of kinds of glass and plastic water bottles, they discovered microplastics in most of them.
The biggest contributor of microplastics however, is laundry! Surprising, yet true. When you wash fabrics that aren’t 100% cotton, silk, hemp, or bamboo, tiny synthetic fibers get washed away with the laundry water, and end up in the ocean. Microplastics make up roughly 85% of ocean pollution, and laundry makes up over 1/3 of that!
Although we don’t suggest replacing your entire wardrobe to be more ecologically friendly, we would urge you to be conscious of the fabrics you are purchasing and wearing. For more on sustainable fashion, read our blog post!
What Can You Do About Microplastic Pollution?
It doesn’t take much to do your part in reducing microplastic pollution. Here are a few simple suggestions:
1. Wash at cool temperatures—heat breaks down fabrics.
2. Skip the spin cycle—all that movement breaks down fabrics faster.
3. Air-dry—synthetics dry quickly anyway.
4. Use a plant-based detergent—it’s less harsh on your clothes and the ocean.
5. Purchase clothing that is 100% plant based (cotton, silk, hemp, or bamboo)
1. When getting coffee, use your reusable cup, instead of a disposable one
2. Use reusable bags instead of single-use plastic ones
3. Properly dispose of any trash and recycling you produce
4. Boycott products produced with microbeads
5. Limit your consumption of fish