Micro plastics are microscopic or very small pieces of plastic that can be found in soil, water even in the air. They are too small to collect or clean up so there they stay. We have now changed the ecosphere irreversibly – with as yet unknown results.
“The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in people’s homes.”
And in the tap water too
Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.
The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.
All from the Guardian
But there are ways to combat this! Read on…..
Sources of micro plastics are
- Degraded plastic – larger plastic products breaking down into smaller pieces
- Cosmetic products that contain tiny plastic beads which are washed off and washed out to sea.
- Synthetic clothing.
Traditional plastics degrade rather than biodegrade, which means they simply break up and fall apart into smaller pieces. The plastic has not changed its structure as such – merely fragmented. And it seems the process can continue indefinitely. Particles of plastic of 20 microns in diameter (a width thinner than a human hair) have been identified.
These particles are called micro plastics. And they are being found in increasing amounts in seawater and rivers. Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth have found particles smaller than a grain of sand and estimate there are 300,000 items of plastic per sq km of sea surface, and 100,000 per sq km of seabed. There is more on Professor Richard Thompsons work here
What to do?
- Stop making plastic trash! Check out how to live plastic free to cut yours.
Tiny plastic beads are added to some product for texture or colour. Some exfoliating scrubs and toothpastes contain them. These beads are washed down the plughole after use, are too small to be filtered out of waste water and so end up in the water ways. A ridiculous form of pollution and
What to do?
Washing synthetic fabrics and clothing also releases millions of microscopic plastic fibers. These are then discharge into sewage system and ultimately out to sea.
By sampling wastewater from domestic washing machines, Dr Browne estimated that around 1,900 individual fibers can be rinsed off a single synthetic garment – ending up in our oceans. And that, 85% of synthetic material found on the shoreline were nylon and acrylic microfibers, and matched the types of material used in clothing.
“We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash,” Dr Browne observed. “It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash”
What to do ?
- wear mostly natural compostable fibres with limited synthetic fibres, (used only for specialist clothing that doesnt need washing often).
- there is a quick intro to synthetic, regenerated, combination and natural fibres here.
- And the reasons why I prefer natural fabrics over the others here.
- Use biodegradable cotton dish clothes, sponges and scrubbers when washing up.
As we already know from this blog,tiny sea creatures, the bedrock of the food chain, ingest these micro plastics. You can see plankton hoovering up plastic here. There is increasing evidence that this is not a healthy diet.
While some plastics are toxic (you can read up on poisons in synthetic fabric here) others are said to be non toxic. So the should pass through the digestive system without doing any damage?
Eating “non toxic” plastic is obviously unhealthy. It has no nutritional value at all and a plastic based diet is not good for general well being. But there are other, more insidious dangers. These tiny plastic particles attract unpleasant chemicals called persistent organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are a small set of toxic chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods and bio- accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals.
They “stick” to the plastic. Bottom feeders eat the plastic pellets and so the POPs enter the food chain. So even if the plastic particle is in itself non toxic the chemical attached are not.
A Dialogue ( from Green Plastics)
Achilles: As far as we know, it’s not toxic…
Achilles: …but it can attract toxic materials. There was a study2 that showed that degraded plastic residues can attract and hold toxins like PCB and DDT up to one million times normal levels. The PCB’s and DDT’s are already in the environment, but are usually so diluted that they are not a significant risk. However, plastic residues concentrate these chemicals, until they can build up to toxic levels.
And read more about the problems with plastic here