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What’s the Most Devastating Effect of Microplastic? It’s Everywhere…

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Microplastics, tiny bits of plastic bits destroying our environment, are everywhere. They have been found even in the most remote places, here’s what you need to know. 

Microplastics are everywhere. They’re been found in the deepest part of the ocean to the summit of Mt. Everest to fresh snow in the Antarctic. It’s in the products we use, the water we drink, and it’s estimated we consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic every week

Plastic has certainly modernized society and helped to advance civilization, but it's clear there’s a problem with plastic pollution. We need to start thinking about the effects of microplastics on the environment and on ourselves.

pieces of microplastics arranged by color in a circular design

Photo by dan lewis on Unsplash

What Is Microplastic

Nurdles (small beads of microplastic) wrapped up in synthetic fibers and fishing lines washed up on a beach

Photo by Sören Funk on Unsplash

Microplastic is considered a piece of plastic with a diameter less than 5 millimeters (mm) and nanoplastic particles measure less than 1-2 micrometers. (For reference there are 1,000 micrometers in 1 mm).

It’s estimated that as of 2015, 15-51 trillion pieces of microplastic were present in Earth’s oceans.

But how did microplastics get everywhere? Where are they coming from? 

How Do Microplastics Get Into the Environment

Rope stretched above water made from nylon, polyester, and polypropylene

Photo by Aditya Wardhana on Unsplash

Microplastic pollution has been a problem since the first plastic product was used in the early 1900’s, but it wasn’t ‘discovered’ until the 1970’s, and it wasn’t studied until the past handful of years. Seriously, like within the past 5 years.

As you can imagine, due to their micro size, it’s difficult for scientists to study nano and microplastic pollution. 

We do know microplastics can easily be blown around by the air, swept down streams and rivers, and even come from the products we use. So basically, they’re coming from every direction all the time.

Microplastic pollution comes from several sources: 

  • Exfoliants used in personal care products 
  • Synthetic FIbers
  • Tires
  • Dust from human activity
  • Plastic granules (AKA nurdles)
  • Single-use plastic

The particles are so small they slip right past water treatment plants, gates and grilles on dams, or the wind blows them across the world. 

Personal Care Products

It’s estimated that 90% of personal care products contain plastic microbeads. When you use these products (toothpaste, scrubs, lotions, sunscreen, deodorants, etc) the beads either rub off or wash down the sink or shower. 

Synthetic Fibers

Fabrics shed in the washing machine. This is typical for all fabrics and natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and others will eventually degrade. But synthetic fibers never will; they’ll live on as long as their plastic counterparts. They run through the water treatment facility too small to be captured and are released with the clean water where they make their way into waterways, oceans, and tap water. 

Tires

The average tire can contain over 100 components including natural rubber, synthetic rubber, nylon, & petroleum. As a tire wears down it breaks into smaller micro pieces AKA — you guessed it — microplastics. 

Human Dust

Not to be confused with country dust; city dust makes up 24% of microplastics in the ocean and is a byproduct of people living life in plastic. Dust used to transport nutrients, it’s now carrying microplastics. And not just a couple, a biogeochemist set out to study how the wind blows nutrients and instead found an estimated 1,000 tons of microplastics deposited by the wind into the U.S. West & National Parks every year. 

That’s the equivalent of 300 million water bottles! 

Nurdles

With a name this fun, it’s too bad it doesn’t represent something much cooler than a plastic lentil. Nurdles are the base of pretty much every other plastic product and their size makes them easy to pollute. 0.3% of all ocean microplastic pollution is in the form of nurdles. 

Microplastics Are Everywhere

plastic bottles cover the rocks at the base of  a mountain.

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

Microplastics have shown up in the most remote areas, even ones untouched by human activity. 

They’ve been found in:

The Effects of Microplastics on the Environment

Sea turtle approaching a plastic plate floating in the ocean to eat it

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Microplastics are bad for the environment because they’re nearly impossible to filter out or clean up entirely; they take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade; and we haven’t been studying them long enough to know what all the effects are. 

So yeah, it’s not great.

Marine animals in particular confuse these particles with food and fill up without getting any nutrients. This has the potential to work its way up the food chain, but also to eventually deplete marine animal populations. 

Turtles have been found on beaches with more than 144 plastic particles inside their stomachs. Zooplankton exposed to microplastics and microfibers experienced less successful reproduction, produced half the amount of larvae and were smaller overall. Mice exposed to microplastics had fewer sperm count, a smaller litter, and the overall size of the babies was smaller. 

So what have scientists discovered about the effects of microplastics on humans? 

What Are the Effects of Microplastic Pollution on Us? 

small boy surrounded by bags of trash on both sides of him 2x as tall as he is.

Photo by Yogesh Pedamkar on Unsplash

Despite plastic being fossil-fuel based, coated in chemicals, and mixed with more chemicals to turn it into a product, there isn’t enough research about the effects it has on the human body.

Because of the lack of research, scientific opinions vary from ‘very concerned’ to ‘we aren’t exposed enough for it to matter’. 

But the chemicals and materials that plastic is made with are toxic to the environment and to the human body. Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates for instance are known endocrine disruptors which can lead to other conditions such as cancer, asthma, and metabolic disorders. Heavy metals have also been found on microplastic particles.

We are still in the early stages of research about whether microplastics cause severe harm to human health. The effects depend on the quantity of exposure, material of the plastic, the type of exposure, and the time of exposure. 

What everyone can seem to agree on is that:

  • More research needs to be done
  • There is concern for the future
  • We need to act now to prevent microplastic pollution from getting worse

What Can You Do About Microplastic Pollution

a vacuum cleaning cleaning up sparkled confetti. A reminder that plastic is present in every are of our lives.

Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Governments are making moves. In 2015, the FDA passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 which, “prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.” The Netherlands, the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, Korea, New Zealand, & Sweden have all placed microbead bans as well.

What everyone can seem to agree on is that:

  • More research needs to be done
  • There is concern for the future
  • We need to act now to prevent microplastic pollution from getting worse
Products to Help You Reduce Microplastic Waste
Guppyfriend Laundry Bag

Put your clothes inside the bag and it catches microfibers from your laundry.

ZWS Essentials Laundry Strips

Other brands of laundry sheets and detergents contain microplastics, ours does not! 

Skincare Without Microbeads

Every we sell is plastic-free, inside and out. Checkout our skincare partners!

GOpure Pod Water Filter

You should always carry a reusable water bottle and if you don't know where you're going, keep a GOpure pod inside for instant filtration!