µ… Microplastic – wait, what?
These are all the small bits of plastic or bigger elements that fall apart after time due to UV light or other effects, all ending up in our ecosystem. Accordingly to Wikipedia microplastics:
are very small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment. Microplastics are not a specific kind of plastic, but rather any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They enter natural ecosystems from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes.
Sources of microplastic
- car and truck tires – tear and wear of tires are between five to ten percent of all plastic that ends up in oceans.
- Cosmetics – soaps, face and body scrubs, toothpaste, shower gels – they all might have plastic among their ingredients.
- Clothing and footwear – all smaller than 5mm plastic particles that enter the environment are considered microplastics so that includes also microfibers from clothing. Your average laundry can release up to 700 000 fibers. Later they can be found all across the food chain – from zooplankton to whales.
- Manufacturing – in production of plastic products small granules are used which when misplaced, inappropriately used or accidentally spilled while being transported – may end up in the water.
- Fishing industry – nylon fishing nets and fishing gear can travel many kilometers becoming a deadly trap for wild animals. They eventually might make it to your favorite beach, just in time to ruin your selfie with the sunset.
- Packaging and shipping – one of the key polluters of the oceans and seashores – via incident spillage or waste dumping.
- Plastic water bottles – research showed that water in plastic bottles is likely to have twice as much microplastics as tap water, probably due to how it is packed and bottled.
Microbeads vs microplastic
All microbeads are microplastics but not all microplastics are microbeads 🙂
Simply put, microbeads are manufactured solid particles less than one millimetre in diameter. They are usually made from polyethylene and often used in cosmetics (exfoliation) and toothpastes. Because of their small size, they easily go through most of the water filters straight to the rivers, seas, and oceans.
The first country to ban microbeads was the Netherlands at the end of 2016. The land of tulips was soon followed by the USA and South Korea and in the following years by France, Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan, UK, Sweden, Italy, and India.
11 countries. Not very impressive, is it? Especially considering that microbeads have many natural alternatives that can replace them.
European Union has acknowledged the problem in April 2018 during the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, and in January 2019 reviewed the evidence on microplastic pollution – based on this the Commission WILL CONSIDER whether the policy changes are needed. More news on the topic is expected in Summer 2020 according to information on the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) website.
Impact on wildlife and the environment
Plastic trash is found in 90 percent of seabirds.
National Geographic, read more here
Plastic waste is getting into our food across the whole food chain. Additional danger is coming from the fact that some plastics are releasing toxic ingredients into the ecosystem – these dangerous substances are being accumulated. One of them is mercury, often found in tuna. Fortunately, high food standards kept in European Union are keeping us from eating the worst toxins.
Another popular poison is polychlorinated biphenyl known as PCB. It was introduced in 1930’ and banned by many countries in the ’70 (finally banned worldwide in 2002). However, there are approximately 83% of it still existing in the environment, polluting it. PCB is accumulated in fat tissue of mammals like whales or seals and can cause weakness of the immune system and infertility. The worst part is, it happens that these mammals feed their cubs with poison because the toxin gets into the milk.
What can YOU do
As a consumer, the most common sources of microplastics that you will get in touch with are the ones used in cosmetics, clothing and bottled water. About switching to a reusable bottle I already wrote here! So now you have an extra reason to go on with it – less waste & less probability of consuming microplastics while drinking your water!
Don’t buy cosmetics with microplastics
This is the easiest way for them to enter the water streams!
Read what you’re buying, maybe some things you could even do on your own? Like toothpaste (I make my own), face mask or body scrub?
Ingredients to watch out for on the back of the packaging:
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
List of products that don’t use microbeads and list of companies that promised to not use them – www.beatthemicrobead.org
Avoid clothing with microfibers
Switch to natural materials if possible, like cotton or wool. The biggest amount of microfibers is in fleece, so watch out for them (one fleece blouse can be a source of 250 000 microfibers). While shopping, check the clothes for synthetic fabrics.
Try to wash your clothes less. You can also follow the advice of major clothing brand – Patagonia on how to reduce your release of microfibers while laundering synthetic items by:
- wash in low temperature (preferably in cold water)
- Fill up the washing machine
- Choose a fast program and lower the spin
- Use liquid detergents and a softener
Newly introduced washing machines can include a special filter to remove microfibers, so it is worth asking about it at the store. But DON’T PANIC, no-one is expecting you to get rid of your perfectly good washing machine at this very moment and hunt a new more eco-friendly one. What you can do though, is invest in a product that collects microfibers during washing – washing balls or special washing bags.
Not everything that is faced can be changed.
But nothing can be changed until it is faced.
~ James Baldwin