I have discussed and pointed out plastics, hazardous chemicals, and waste generated by major industries in my previous topics. Yet, they are large enough and giant pieces of plastics, invisible to observe, and it’s no point to be swallowed by any animal. Now, microplastics are deep down to the overall topic of plastics as they are fragments and damaging to both human, plant, and animal lives.
What is Microplastics?
According to the National Ocean Service, microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long, harmful to ocean and aquatic life. Microplastics come from various sources, from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Furthermore, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are super tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpaste. The small particles inside will be consumed and pass through the water filtration system and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes. The more pieces of plastics are in the ocean, the more alarming the threat to sea animal lives.
The problem of microplastics is not new. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, plastic microbeads first appeared in personal care products fifty years ago, with plastics increasingly replacing natural ingredients. In 2012, the issue wasn’t much concerned, with an abundance of products containing plastic microbeads on the market and not a lot of awareness on the part of consumers. (NOAA, 2021)
How Does Microplastics Impact on Living Things?
a. On Human
A report of WHO, the invasion of microplastics to human health by the ingestion of contaminated food. Researchers also found 0.44 MPs/g (Microplastics per gram) were found in sugar, 0.11MPs/g were found in salt, 0.03MPs/g found in alcohol, 0.09 MPs/g were found in bottled water. On the other hand, there is an average of 80g/day of microplastics from fruits and veggies that we consume daily. Lastly, the majority of tiny pieces of plastics were found in marine species (fish, bivalves, and crustaceans). (Campanale, Massarelli, Savino, Locaputo, & Felice Uricchio, 2020)
Another way for microplastics to enter the human body is through inhalation. Scientists found the wind, wastewater, synthetic clothes fabric, and industrial emissions carried microplastics. The spread of microplastics to the human’s respiratory system can lead to respiratory distress, cytotoxic, inflammatory effects, and autoimmune disease in men.
Yet, these consequences can follow immediate bronchial reactions (asthma-like). Workers who work in the textile industry, usually exposed to synthetic fabric components, are diagnosed with pulmonary cancer.
Lastly, skin contacts and the consumption of personal care products that may contain microplastics can increase the possibility of those diseases above.
b. On Species
Plastic waste in the ocean has killed 1 million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish every year. (Mardiastuti, Wardiatno, & Susanti, 2013) Microplastics can be transferred through the food web, from animals to others. Humans as consumers may indirectly ingest microplastic by the food we daily eat.
As microplastics exist in soil, they can act as hot pockets of contaminant transport. They can bind with and accumulate soil contaminants, such as long-lived poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs have been linked to cancer, whose production was banned in 1970. Though, they still linger in the environment. (Adkisson, 2020)
Since microplastics are difficult to see by normal eyes but under the microscope and their dangerous effects on the whole planet’s health, I truly expect solutions from environmental activists, businesses, and scientists to bring on some solutions on the table as to remove it as much as possible. In contrast, plastics are still useful in the healthcare industry and others, but the overwhelming amount of them has exceeded our expectations to ruin our health and next generations. I hope this topic will make you fully aware of plastics; you consume plastic by using nylon bags, and the food we consume contains bits of it.