The real problem behind plastic pollution – microplastic

What is the real problem behind plastic pollution, are people really aware of the problem as it is? Majority of people think that the biggest concern with plastic pollution is just as we see it, plastic lying around in landfills and oceans… However, the problem is much more greater and deeper than we think.

Here are few words explaining why plastic pollution is such a big concern and why it could have devastating consequences on your health!

How plastics move around the world?

Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers, which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream. Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world.

What are Microplastics?

Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough. Microplastics are breaking down further into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic microfibers, meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air.

Microplastics are very small particles of plastic material, typically smaller than 5mm and often much smaller including nano plastics. They can be unintentionally formed through the wear and tear of larger pieces of plastic, including synthetic textiles. They can also be deliberately manufactured and intentionally added to products for a specific purpose, for example, as exfoliating beads in facial or body scrubs or as glitter in make-up. Once released to the environment, they may be accumulated by animals, including fish and shellfish and consequently eaten as food by consumers.

Why are Microplastics a concern?

There is scientific uncertainty about the hazards of microplastic issues. There is concern that microplastics could have adverse health effects on humans as they move through the marine food into your body when eaten. Microplastics both absorb and give off chemicals and harmful pollutants. Plastic’s ingredients or toxic chemicals absorbed by plastics may build up over time and stay in the environment. It is known that you can be exposed to these pollutants by eating contaminated seafood.

As more microplastics fill our marine environment, and are consumed by the creatures that inhabit our waters, greater concentrations of these plastic particles are entering our food chain. Recent research has suggested evidence of microplastics has been detected in humans for the first time. On the other hand any wildlife in or around rivers is exposed to the threats of microplastic pollution. We know that they can be ingested by organisms as small as zooplankton. If ingested, microplastics can block the gastrointestinal tracts of organisms, or trick them into thinking they don’t need to eat, leading to starvation.

Solve it with science?

The best way to reduce marine pollution is to manage plastic waste better at source. To prevent pollution entering landfill, there is a need to change the way plastic is viewed by society: from ubiquitous, disposable waste to a valuable, recyclable raw material, much like metal and glass. It’s hoped this will increase the economic value of plastic waste in a circular economy. Another part of the solution is simpler and more cost-effective processes for plastic waste sorting and separation, implementable in poorer countries as well as the developed world.

In general, what’s needed is to raise awareness among the public and the next generation of both the economic value of the plastic as a raw material and the potential harm caused to the marine environment by inappropriate disposal. Putting plastic into landfill deprives us of a valuable resource and chemists have a key role to play in increasing the value of existing plastic materials, through improved cost-effective separation and recycling technologies, as well as through invention of new, more readily degradable bio-based materials for the plastics of the future.

Still not convinced why you should completely eliminate your usage of single use plastic?