What Are Microplastics?

Plastic is all around us. It’s one of the most commonly used products in the world, and as such, it’s also one of the most common types of debris left unused in society. When plastic is used, it forms tiny pieces, sometimes smaller than five millimeters (0.2 in) in length. These are called microplastics, and, like normal plastics, they are all around us– from the air we breathe to the clothes we wear and tea bags we drink from. Microplastics are usually invisible to the naked eye, but this doesn’t stop them from negatively impacting our environment. The good news is that there are ways to avert the pollution caused by microplastics, and you can get involved.

So, where exactly do microplastics come from? Research and health organizations such as the European Chemical Agency say that the wear and tear of synthetic fabrics, including those you buy as clothing, is a major contributor. Microplastics are created unintentionally as larger plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition, microplastics are intentionally manufactured by producers for use in several industries and everyday products. These may include toothpaste and skincare products. This can cause issues due to the nature of plastic as a material. The US National Institute of Health identifies microplastics as capable of releasing toxic chemicals to the environment. Given that plastic can take centuries to degrade, the chemicals released by microplastics have the potential to cause great harm to the environment and last for long periods of time. Studies estimate that around 25 trillion pieces of microplastic exist on the surface of the world’s oceans, contaminating the water and posing risks for sea animals such as fish. Experiments at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland have shown that microplastics ingested by marine animals easily pass through cell walls as tiny particles, negatively affecting biological functions.

Beyond causing problems for animals, microplastics are similarly dangerous to people. Nanoparticles from microplastics can affect humans as well as animals when they are consumed. The likelihood that microplastics are currently in your body is nearly one hundred percent, as they are contained in countless products from tea bags to toothpaste. Microplastics are in the clothes you wear and even the air you breathe.  

What can you do to solve these problems? The answer to this question is difficult because of the sheer number of microplastics and plastic products in our lives. One way would be to wear fewer clothing items with synthetic fibers, but we understand that it isn’t realistic to stop using synthetic fabrics in our lives altogether. Thankfully, nonprofit initiative Stop! Micro Waste has developed an easy solution in the form of the GuppyFriend, a light-weight washing bag that decreases synthetic fiber shedding by up to 90 percent and filters the fibers that do break off so they don’t make it into your clothing and personal items. Simply put it into your washing machine with your clothes inside and wash as normal. Visit guppyfriend.com to learn more and get yours. We are not sponsored by Guppyfriend. To further reduce the amount of plastic you ingest, you can both begin to filter your water and watch out for the material of the tea bags you use. Stop using tea bags made out of plastic and start using ones made from cornstarch or paper. Several companies are adopting alternatives to the materials used in their tea bags such as the British companies Pg. Tips, and Teatley. Finally, Limiting your use of single-use plastics is another way to take steps towards eliminating microplastics in your life. This can involve simple things such as using tupperware containers instead of plastic bags. You can read more about decreasing plastic waste on our blog at egenglewood.org in the article “Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Usage.”

Keep these ideas in mind, and remember that making the environment and your own life better doesn’t have to be a huge hassle. Every little solution helps, so be sure to take action on what we’ve said if you have the opportunity. Thanks for reading this blog post from Earth Guardians Englewood. 

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