Microplastic and The Plastic Age
In recent years, microplastic has been a focal point among scientists. Not many people know about micro-plastic and before this, neither did I until I watched the documentary "Plastic Ocean"created by the Plastic Oceans International. Today's blog will provide a brief overview about micro-plastic and its impact.
Microplastic is a mineral that is smaller than 5mm in size. More than 50% of the microplastic in the Pacific ocean is less than 25 microns. To help you to understand how small it is; The human hair averages between 50 and 70 microns in diameter. The smallest particle a human eye can see is about 40 microns.
For centuries, historians and archaeologists have defined periods of human history through technologies and materials that have had the greatest impact on human life – like Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and, etc. And we are obviously living in the “Plastic Age” right now. Microplastic is rampant in the air, water, land and even food. No one knows how far microplastic can travel but if we compare it to Saharan dust which is as large as 400 microns, and can travel thousands of miles, we can assume microplastic is capable of traveling the same distance.
Are we safe from microplastic?
The exact hazards on the planet caused by microplastics are not yet revealed but what is known is that microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the human body through the nose or mouth and those less than 5 microns can end up in lung tissue.
It sounds reasonable enough to worry about it because precedently other types of small particles can have an impact on health. Fine particulates in the air formed by burning fossil fuels, including black carbon or soot have been a great deal of concern. These have been linked to a wide range of health impacts from asthma to heart attacks to impairing children’s memory and IQ. Above all, most countries have air pollution standards to limit the volumes of particles less than 10 microns, and especially those below 2.5 microns.
It has killed many creatures. Research about plastic garbage and its effect on the ecosystem has been conducted on the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Henderson Island by Australian and UK scientists. The result was quite terrifying. 508 thousand hermit crabs in Cocos Islands and 61 thousand of them in Henderson Island were killed by plastic. More than 5 trillion pieces of microplastic is floating on the surface of our oceans which becomes food for plankton and plankton becomes food for small fish like anchovies, shrimps which are then end up inside of us. Who knows, we may end up like the hermit crab.
Smaller microplastics which we often call “nano-plastics” are even more chemically reactive. Studies have shown that polystyrene nano plastics ingested by aquatic organisms passed through cell walls. This appeared to change behaviour and affected the endocrine function of fish and other marine species. Lab experiments have also shown nano plastics cross cell walls in samples of human intestines.
Conclusion: Take appropriate steps
There is no place on Earth where plastic is naturally occuring. Plastic would never exist if it wasn't for human invention. The peer-reviewed journal Science Advances analyzed every type of plastic ever made. According to the study, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been created and of that number, 6.3 billion metric tons became waste. Apart from the only advantage of using it – convenience -, plastic has always been harmful to the environment. Plastic is made from fossil fuels and this industry has resulted in emissions amounting to 1.7 billion metric tonnes of CO2 in 2015.
The volume of plastic produced is doubling every decade and by 2050 there might be more plastic garbage in the world’s oceans than fish. If this amount of plastic becomes microplastic, it is inevitable that we will be inhaling microplastic with every breath.
So, as we’ve always heard, single-use plastics like shopping bags and straws need to be reduced. I personally hope this movement can lead to the elimination of single-use plastics. Do you want to start something small? Using Tooth Bites instead of regular toothpaste in plastics tubes can be one of your options in taking the appropriate steps in the right direction. Recycled plastic just delays its degradation into microplastic, so it is far better to reduce plastic consumption or replace plastic with sustainable alternatives.