Plastic may be lurking in places you don’t realize, and is often so small that it is difficult to trace. Microplastic contributes to plastic pollution in the oceans, and is steadily increasing. According to ScienceDaily, “Scientists refer to these plastic particles as ‘microplastic particles,’ understanding these to mean plastic objects whose diameter is less than five millimetres — whereby the majority of microplastic particles are smaller than a grain of sand or the tip of a needle.” Basically, most microplastic is invisible to the human eye.
The long-term effects of microplastic are not yet fully known, however, this phenomenon should give us pause. These pollutants affect our waterways and marine-life alike. Invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain such as shellfish and mollusks often ingest microplastic and it winds up in their digestive tracts and tissues. When an animal eats plastic, it can be harmful to them, and also to the humans that may consume that animal. This thought may make you forever wonder questions such as, “Are those sea scallops on the menu full of microplastic?” Or, “Am I swimming in a soup of microplastic?”
So where do these invisible plastic particles come from? There are various sources of microplastic:
- Clothing made from synthetic fibers sheds microplastic when it is washed
- Some exfoliating soap has microbeads that are made from plastic ingredients
- The fragmentation of larger plastic material by photochemical processes such as exposure to UV rays
- The fragmentation of larger plastic material by mechanical forces; for example, waves can cause pieces of plastic in the oceans to become smaller
A paper titled Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: A rapidly increasing, long-term threat by Charles James Moore states, “Synthetic polymers, commonly known as plastics, have been entering the marine environment in quantities paralleling their level of production over the last half century. However, in the last two decades of the 20th Century, the deposition rate accelerated past the rate of production, and plastics are now one of the most common and persistent pollutants in ocean waters and beaches worldwide.”
So, how can we each do our part to fight microplastic pollution in the oceans?
- Buy clothing made from natural fibers instead of synthetic fibers
- When you want to exfoliate, use a cleanser with natural exfoliants such as almonds, sugar and oatmeal instead of the synthetic versions
- Reduce your consumption of traditional plastic
- When you buy something made of conventional plastic, make sure to recycle it
- Encourage your neighborhood to develop a composting infrastructure so compostable bioplastics can replace traditional plastics and be returned to the earth through industrial composting
- Help spread awareness and let others know about the presence of and the dangers of microplastic