Microplastics: what we know, and what we must do
It's not long ago that attention was put to microplastics. News around this invisible enemy now comes almost weekly. Here is what we know, and what we can do about it.
The mass production of plastics began almost 60 years ago, and now, about 80% of plastic ever created still exists. Some have barely degraded, while other plastics have become thousands of plastic bits drifting around the oceans and even flying around in the air.
What and where is it?
Microplastics are tiny bits of plastic that are often invisible to the eye. Everything from polyester clothing to car tires generates these invisible bits. The oceans are their main landing area, as most waste finds its way to the oceans at some point. Microplastics have been found in the deepest points of the oceans, under the arctic ice, inside of fish, and are even inside of us. (CNN)
In our homes, microplastic comes out from our sewage system from the laundry machine each time we wash polyester, nylon, or other plastic textiles. There are also a lot of cosmetics and skincare products with microplastics inside of them. Wastewater treatment systems do not block microplastics, and hence they end up in the oceans or other water bodies.
How will it affect us?
We know microplastics are everywhere around us, however, the impact is still unknown. Harmful bacteria can attach to microplastics, and often the plastics seep out toxic pollutants. A study done on the impact of microplastic on fish found that the fish that was exposed to microplastic seemed to lose cognitive abilities, they became slower and less seemingly intelligent (REUTERS).
What can we do?
A lot of today's plastic solutions revolve around recycling. However, recycling requires a huge amount of infrastructure and energy, and it's next to impossible to avoid microplastic pollution in the process of recycling plastic.
Reducing plastic is the only long-term solution, and as we don't exactly know how microplastics will affect the planet and our own health, it should probably happen fast! Industries such as the car tire industry should swiftly find new solutions. However, there are also ways we each can contribute in our everyday lives.
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