Richard Thompson, a marine ecologist at the University of Plymouth (UK), came up with the term microplastic in 2004 after discovering plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters. Scientists and researchers have been concerned about the possible dangers of microplastics ever since.
Plastics are the most prevalent marine litter in the oceans around the world, reaching even the planet's deepest point. They take hundreds of years to degrade, and even after degradation, they don't quite stop polluting the waters. Unlike the biodegradable materials, which degrade naturally, a piece of plastic tears into further smaller bits, releasing toxic substances into the water supply throughout this process.
Microplastics are plastic particles that have gradually infiltrated and polluted the waterways, shorelines, and environment at large. They are less than five millimeters long and come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Microplastics are the direct consequence of larger plastic products like bottles, bags, candy wrappers, and straws degrading over time. The size further fractures into smaller bits with the influence of natural forces like wind and tides, making it easier to get to marine life and eventually to the human food chain. While microplastics can be detected by human eyes, the more minuscule ones are called microbeads, a fatal threat that is almost unnoticeable.
Microbeads, smaller than two millimeters, are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polyethylene (PE), and polypropylene (PP). They are popularly found in everyday essentials like face wash, body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, and make-up items, among other products. While these ultra-fragmented plastic bits seem harmless, they pose a severe risk to ocean animals. Sea creatures frequently mistake them for food, which results in early death. It has compromised the lives of over 300 species of wildlife.
What are the sources of microplastics?
Microplastics account for up to 85% of all plastic pollution on shorelines. But where do they come from?
Plastic pollution in the oceans primarily comes from land-based sources—the careless or improper disposing of waste from land to river and, eventually, to the ocean. Our planet's mighty waters also play host to plastic waste generation by around 3 billion people living close to coastlines. The average amount of plastic entering the ocean from land is estimated to be around 8 million metric tonne per year. Studies also reveal that over 25% of plastic waste in the ocean each year comes from just ten rivers— eight in Asia and two in Africa. Further, dumping petroleum products, radioactive waste, and sewage, among other things by countries and through natural calamities such as floods and storms add to the marine litter trouble.
Harms from Microplastics
Research shows certain animals find the smell of plastic enticing, resulting in eating the harmful synthetics. Plastic smells like food to anchovies, tricking them into eating it. Birds fall for the phytoplankton smell coming from plankton and bacteria growing on the surface of the plastic. Meanwhile, studies show corals voluntarily consume plastic fragments over actual food particles.
Animal entanglement is another shockingly evident plastic issue, reported affecting over 200 marine species. Abandoned plastic fishing nets kill sea lions, whales, dolphins, seals, birds, and sea turtles. Plastic entanglement is also threatening the extinction of the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. For those marine lives that survive entanglement, it still inflicts wounds and infection which reduces their capacity to find food or flee from predators. Research revealed that signs of disease in reefs without plastic were 4%, while 89% of reefs with plastic showed disease symptoms.
Are you eating plastic?
The harmful chemicals such as hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) and pesticides from microplastic particles can physically harm our organs by impairing immune systems and stifling cell growth. Both microplastics and these chemicals tend to contaminate the food chain, affecting the ecosystems.
According to research, the amount of plastic an average American adult ingests in a day is between 126 and 142 tiny plastic particles and inhaling 132-170. And if microplastics are in drinking water and in the air we breathe can directly impact human health, shouldn't we start taking serious measures? The most straightforward solution to the plastic problem is lessening the quantity of plastic production. But given that our world is addicted to plastic, this can be massively challenging. One party's contribution alone will not suffice. Consumers, manufacturers, and governments must all contribute to reducing plastic demand, production, and supply to tackle the problem.
Living Plastic Free & Choosing Safer Options
Eliminating single-use plastic bags, packaging, and straws necessitates finding a replacement. But this will have to start with breaking the plastic addiction. Sustainable, eco-friendly products dedicated to promoting nature and humans can help with that.
A worldwide survey also reveals that 75% of people want single-use plastics banned. Over 80 countries (and counting) have completely or partially banned the use of single-use plastic. While outright bans on single-use plastics are yet to come, we can implement effective measures like using organic cotton tote bags.
Conscious brands worldwide are working hard to offer better products made of safer materials like organic cotton. Terra Thread envisions a future in which the bags people carry do not harm the planet.
Our bags are made using rain-fed organic cotton, NOT fossil fuel-based polyster or nylon.
We don't just stop there; we do not use any unnecessary packaging to mitigate plastic pollution at the time of shipment. Terra Thread aims to stop microplastics from invading our oceans and have made its products such as sustainable backpacks, duffel bag, and more using 100% organic cotton.
Computer sleeve from Terra Thread are also made using 100% organic cotton
We may not have reached the finish line yet, but we get closer every time we break a plastic habit.