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It is not a secret that plastic has plagued every part of our beautiful planet. There is no one to blame but us. Plastic was a revolutionary invention as it is a very versatile material that can be used in many different ways. But what came up as a revolution, slowly started to degrade the planet. To make plastic, a lot of petroleum is mined, and the byproducts of plastic are quite harmful. And with the rising trends of single-use disposable plastic items, we are no longer using plastic, but instead abusing it.
One big part of this plastic pollution issue is the sub-category called microplastics. In this article, we will explore what exactly microplastics are. We’ll also see how they affect oceans and marine life and what the negative impact of this is.
Microplastics are pieces of plastics that are smaller than 5mm. They can either be purposely made that size, or they can be a result of breaking down of bigger plastics.
They can be broadly categorized into 2 parts – primary and secondary.
Primary microplastics are those that are manufactured to be smaller than 5mm. They are usually used in the cosmetic industry, where they are referred to as micro-beads. These plastics are used in products known to exfoliate the skin. They can also be found in toothpaste, face washes and makeup products. These microbeads are commonly made out of polyethylene, polypropylene or polyethylene terephthalate. You will be surprised to know that it only makes up about 2% of the total microplastics released into the oceans. The other 98% is basically all secondary microplastics, which should become a rising issue of concern.
Secondary microplastics are a result of breaking down of plastics. As we all know, industrially produced plastic does not degrade completely, ever. All it does it breaks down into smaller plastics. It just becomes very fine and small microplastics. These are essentially secondary microplastics, which makes up the majority of the microplastics that exist today. These are a result of breaking down plastics under different physical conditions like climatic or physical stress. When plastics are not managed properly, they break down and leach into the soil or the oceans. Since we grow our food from the soil, all our fruits and veggies will also have traces of these harmful microplastics. This issue has reached a point where even the air we breathe is loaded with microplastics. They mess not only with soil health, but with human health, ocean and marine life health as well.
While these are the two main categories of microplastics, there is an unofficial third category that doesn’t get as much attention. While the plastics in this unofficial category does not adhere strictly to the size limit, they are a result of smaller plastics from other plastic items. These microplastics come from synthetic fibres and tires. These microplastics contribute to about 30% of all the microplastics we find today, which is quite a significant number!
While microplastics are a problem everywhere, a lot of this plastic waste gets discharged into the oceans. Firstly, a lot of our toiletries these days are loaded with microplastics. They obviously go into the drains and ultimately the ocean. Apart from that, the beaches are where a lot of the plastic waste gets pulled into the oceans, where they stagnate, and break down over time. This is a very big problem because we can safely say that all the plastic that has ever been created has broken down into microplastics and is still present in the ocean, which is a terrifying thought to begin with.
A lot of the microplastics that end up in the ocean are consumed by a variety of marine life, most of it being fish, shellfish and crustaceans. And since a lot of humans consume these animals, they end up affecting human health as well. When they go into the system of any organism, these plastic particles release different toxic materials. This can mess with the biology of the organism. They also affect the endocrine system of humans. They may cause genetic defects in very extreme cases, or over a period of time.
In conclusion, the only way we can control the issue of microplastics is by curbing our plastic usage. It’s also extremely important to promote safe disposal of plastic waste. This is the only tangible way we can make a difference to our choking oceans.
Plastic Collectors is a collective of passionate and driven people all over the globe who work on collecting plastic from beaches and other parts of their surroundings and ensure that this plastic gets recycled. Educating their peers is also one of their main missions,and they believe in educating through positive action. You can also join the cause or learn more about the initiative by clicking here.