Microplastics are everywhere, and they have adverse effects on human health as well as the environment. Hence, they have become a growing concern for national and international authorities as well as NGOs, consumers, and the plastic industry. There has also been a heightened growth in the global plastics production from 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 335 million tons in 2016.
Due to the increase of microplastics and their effect on environmental and human health, many have proposed that governments around the world need to take strict measures to curb the excess plastics in our environment. Others are, however, confident that these wastes can be reduced significantly if every individual plays their part.
What are Microplastics?
Plastic objects and particles are found in the air, landfills, and the ocean, and they rarely biodegrade. Specifically, only 9% out of 300 million tonnes of plastics that are produced yearly are recycled — some of these plastics fragment into microplastics and nano plastics. The difference between either is based on size, and as such, microplastics are between 2 mm and 5 mm in size. These materials are pollutants that can affect humans, wildlife, and wildlife habitat.
Can Politicians Help to Curb Microplastics?
In a Reddit thread on November 9, 2019, a user opined that microplastics are everywhere as such politicians need to take action to ensure that these wastes are reduced from the environment. While the author's comment is in line with global goals to curb plastic waste, another Redditor had a counter-opinion to tackle the problem.
According to the user, winterofdiscontent_, politicians are owned by corporations, and also, they are more interested in enriching their pockets. However, an alternative would be to vote in honest people to replace corrupt politicians. The only problem is, people are less willing to vote for the sincere ones since the latter would most likely not sweet coat their words.
winterofdiscontent_ also remarked that the best solution to the microplastic pollution problem is for individuals to stop buying plastics.
"Or then do it yourself. Don't buy plastic stuff. Don't buy stuff in plastic. Refuse to have anything to do with plastic. You'll suffer for a while, but the more people do this, the louder the message will be that the plastic culture is no more."
Why the Huge Concern on Microplastics?
The impact of plastics is being brought to public consciousness since they affect humans and the environment. Some reasons why they have become a concern include:
1. Potential Impact on Human Health:
Two Australian scientists discovered that plastics are also a part of human stool, which is evidence that we also consume these materials. These scientists also revealed that almost half of the world's population have plastics in their body. These materials can cause endocrine disruption, which could lead to congenital disabilities, developmental problems in children, immune system suppression, among others.
2. Food Contamination:
Plastic packages are made with chemicals, which can contaminate the food they are wrapped with. For this reason, people are not only exposed to chemicals during manufacturing but when using plastics daily. Some reported cases of plastics contaminating food had involved plastic types such as Acetaldehyde from PET, Styrene from polystyrene, and plasticizers from PVC.
3. Impact on Organisms in the Environment:
Plastics ingested by fish and other aquatic animals can cause blockage to their guts. This can also result in an injury of the gut lining. On the other hand, microplastics can absorb organic contaminants as well as pathogens and metals from the environment. These harmful particles are deposited in organisms that consume them.
How to Reduce Microplastics
Here are some ways to reduce microplastics in the environment:
1. Avoid Plastic Containers:
Avoiding the use of polycarbonate beverage bottles and water containers with Bisphenol A can significantly reduce the demand for these bottles. It would force manufacturers to stop producing them entirely. Also, it would help to reduce the number of plastics that are left behind in the environment, yearly. Food and drinks in glass or metal containers can be purchased instead.
2. Filter Your Tap Water:
Research shows that microplastics are contained in 94% and 72% of tap water in the U.S. and Europe, respectively. Nonetheless, these materials can be avoided by filtering your tap water before drinking. It's worth noting that there are carbon block water filters that can be used to make water safe for drinking, and these filters can be employed in removing microplastics in tap water.
3. Avoid Microbeads Products:
Small pieces of plastic called microbeads are usually included in some health and beauty products, including toothpaste and facial scrubs. The U.S banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products in 2015, but there are still products of this nature. By not purchasing them, it could discourage their production and reduce their supply in the market.
Microplastics are harmful to both humans and the environment, which brings about a need to encourage their recycling. However, it begins with individuals taking steps that will reduce the pollution of the environment significantly.
Featured Image by geographical.co.uk