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Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) long, which can be harmful to ocean and aquatic life, states National Ocean Service (1). As a pollutant, its harm is not yet thoroughly understood, but as we dived deep into this field, the known effects are a great threat to not only ocean life, but also to humans, as we are the consumers of some marine species. In this article, we are to define microplastics and explain their deteriorating effects on ecosystems.
Microplastics, as their name implies, are tiny plastics. Being less than 5 millimeters long, they are also smaller in diameter than the standard pearl used in jewelry (2). Microplastics are divided into two categories as of their constitution way. One type of which is formed for either commercial uses such as cosmetics or textile sub-entity microfibers. These are already tiny plastic pieces, while the other category of microplastics is generated after the breakdown of a larger plastic item such as water bottles, which are mainly caused by environmental factors like the sun’s radiation or water movements.
The world is producing twice as much plastic waste as it did two decades ago, with the bulk of it ending in landfill, incinerated, or leaking into the environment, and only 9% successfully recycled, according to the new OECD report (3).
The study also shows that plastic consumption being quadrupled in the last 30 years (4). Another study reveals that people around the world buy a total of 1.000.000 plastic bottles per minute, counting to almost 1.5 billion plastic bottles per day (4). However, plastics do not decompose into unharmful pieces in the environment after usage. Plastics can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to fully get lost, depending on the materials’ structure and environmental factors such as sunlight exposure (5). The time after the usage of plastic materials and their decomposition, there is the step of microplastics.
Day by day, the existence of microplastics in the ocean increases dramatically. An unsurprising but striking study by the UN unveils that there are as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in the seas, 500 times more than stars in our galaxy (6). Microplastics found in the seas can be ingested by marine animals, and then they are accumulated and end up in humans through the food chain. Recently, they have been found in food and drinks, including beer, honey, and tap water. Another piece of evidence that humans accidentally consume microplastics is that plastic particles have been discovered in human stool (7).
The certain effects of microplastics are still undiscovered and searched meticulously, yet the fact that plastics may often contain additives such as stabilizers or other possibly toxic chemical substances poses a great threat to all living creatures. Therefore, countries and international organizations such as the UN and EU started to take measures to deal with the harmful impacts of microplastics.
US Department of Commerce, N. O. and A. A. (2016, April 13). What are microplastics? NOAA's National Ocean Service. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html.
Microplastics. Education. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/microplastics/.
Plastic pollution is growing relentlessly as waste management and recycling fall short, says OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.oecd.org/environment/plastic-pollution-is-growing-relentlessly-as-waste-management-and-recycling-fall-short.htm.
Million plastic bottles per minute – scary plastic statistics. Lavit. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.drinklavit.com/blog/plastic-isnt-green#:~:text=Studies%20show%20that%20people%20around,billion%20plastic%20bottles%20per%20day.
Hughes, A. M. (2022, June 17). How long it takes everyday items to decompose. The Waste Management Recycling Blog. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.forgerecycling.co.uk/blog/how-long-it-takes-everyday-items-to-decompose/.
United Nations. (n.d.). 'turn the tide on plastic' urges Un, as microplastics in the seas now outnumber stars in Our galaxy | un news. United Nations. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/02/552052-turn-tide-plastic-urges-un-microplastics-seas-now-outnumber-stars-our-galaxy.
Microplastics: Sources, effects and solutions: News: European parliament. Microplastics: sources, effects and solutions | News | European Parliament. (2018, November 22). Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181116STO19217/microplastics-sources-effects-and-solutions.