Written by: Christina Vestey
It may be hard to believe, but it is raining plastic.! It is a well-known fact that plastic waste is having a devastating impact on our oceans and marine life. However it is the first time scientists have recorded plastic falling from the sky! In what would be considered a pristine mountain environment of the Pyrenees in Southern France. Scientists have recorded 365 microplastic particles per m2 falling from the sky. It should be noted that they could not find anything within more than a 60-mile radius of this uninhabited agricultural region that could be the source.
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that measure a maximum of 0.5mm. There are a few ways micro-plastics arise. They can be found n beauty products such as body scrubs and toothpaste that have little microbeads. And polyester and fleece materials have micro-beads. Today, 60% of the world's clothing production uses polyester. The microbeads are released into the water when we wash off a scrub, spit out toothpaste into the sink, or wash clothes. When plastic breaks down into little pieces, it becomes microplastic. If you can imagine, a plastic bag dropped on the roadside or a beach will break down into tiny fragments over time. It is common for birds, fish, and small animals to mistake these small particles as food. Leading to plastic in their gut. With time their stomachs become filled with plastic particles, and they die of starvation.
Effects of microplastics
As National Geographic reports, “Scientists have warned we are creating a “plastic planet.” Some 420 million tons of plastics were produced in 2015, up from just over two million tons in 1950. Over this 65-year period roughly six billion tons ended up either in landfill or in the natural environment, a 2017 study estimated. A study by researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia found that the average person consumes about 5g of plastic every week from tap water. And this is not an invitation to buy bottled water. As studies reveal that bottled water contains 22 times more microplastic particles than tap water, and it is in 93% of bottled water brands on the market. (Tyree and Morrison, 2017).
If we are ingesting so much plastic unknowingly, how does this affect our health? Unfortunately, a lot more cross-disciplinary research is required to understand the long-term impact on human health. Plastics are made with harmful chemicals. There is growing concern that microplastics can cause endocrine disruption and other potential health complications as they leach into our system.
How to reduce microplastics in our environment
For sure, the less plastic we use, the better it is for the environment and us. Here are a few tips on keeping micro-plastics out of the environment:
- Avoid body scrubs and toothpaste with little beads. Many brands on the market don't have them.
- Filter your tap water
- Carry your own water bottle and avoid plastic water bottles wherever possible
- Put fleeces and clothes that have polyester in wash bags for delicate garments when washing.
- If you are buying a new washing machine, check if it has a filter that prevents microplastic particles from going into the central water system.
- If you see plastic in the street, on a beach, or wherever you may be, please pick it up and dispose of it properly. You will most probably be saving an animal's life.