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What is considered microplastic?
They are plastic pieces measuring less than 5mm. They can become imperceptible to the human eye, and are sometimes so small that practically no filter can stop them.
They are classified into 2 groups:
- the primary ones are those that are consciously used for the manufacture of products, generally for hygiene articles, such as scrub, toothpaste, cream, etc;
- The secondary ones, on the other hand, are those derived from the deterioration of certain products, for example, car tires, textiles, fishing nets, among others Microplastic – garbage in the ocean
How do they end up in the sea?
Primary microplastics generally enter the sea through the drain after use, during industrial production, or upon disposal.
In the case of the secondary ones, it is more complex, since there are many ways in which these are formed, here we mention some:
Microplastics from textiles are generally produced during washing and reach the sea through wastewater as primary.
When plastic stays a lot of time under the sun in the ocean, it breaks down, getting smaller and smaller until it becomes microplastics.
Car tires depreciate with use and leave particles in the environment, which are then carried by the wind around to the seas. We can also find tires left in the ocean.
Oceanmarine fact: Half of the plastic we use on a daily basis are single-use items, such as containers or straws. Single-use plastic has an average usage time of 12-15 minutes; however, it can take 400 to 1,000 years to disintegrate.
In fact, a study by the Swiss Federal Forest and Snow Research Institute (WSL) revealed that microplastic has been found in Arctic ice, which most likely was carried there by the wind.
Microplastic in the food chain
Because they do not biodegrade, but only disintegrate into smaller parts, these particles, floating through the oceans, mix very easily with plankton, which is the basis of the food chain, therefore it is consumed or absorbed by primary consumers and progresses into the chain until they reach humans.
Oceanmarine Fact: Microplastic has been found in fish, mollusks, birds, turtles, salt, tap and bottled water, and honey.
The UN declared in 2017 that there are up to 51 billion microplastic particles in the sea. The study «Nature without plastic: Assessment of human ingestion of plastics present in nature» by Dalberg, the University of Newcastle in Australia and the WWF suggests that an average person could be consuming around 5g of plastic per week, this would be the equivalent of a credit card.
What causes microplastic?
The effect on human health is still unknown, many studies are still being done in regards to how microplastic affects humans. Several analyzes have shown negative effects on human health since they often contain additives and other toxic chemicals. These can be harmful to animals as well. In humans, according to the International Center for Environmental Law (CIEL) in its report “Plastic and health: The hidden costs of a plastic planet ”, a possible connection with problems in the cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems has been discovered.
As for animals, many negative effects have already been discovered, mainly intestinal obstructions that reduce their desire to eat, which shortens their growth, malnutrition, or even death. Microplastic has also been found in the organs of many marine species.
What are some organizations doing?
The organization «Stop micro waste», in addition to creating awareness, has devised the «Guppyfriend» laundry bag, which retains microplastic particles that come off the clothes in the washing machine, thus preventing them from reaching the ocean.
The WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature) together with the study «Nature without plastic» is calling on governments to take action and ensure that both producers and consumers are responsible and help stop the plastic problem. You can sign the global petition here.
Plastic soup foundation started a “beat the microbead” campaign since 2012 to remove microplastic beads from many hygiene products, creating an application where you can check which products contain microplastics. You can download the app “Beat the microbead” for android and iphone.