“Microplastics (those measuring up to 5 millimeters in diameter) make up almost a fifth of the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the oceans each year (CNN).”
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that measure up to 5 millimetres in diameter. They can come from a variety of sources; including larger plastic debris that degrade into smaller and smaller pieces. On the other hand, some micro-plastics, known as micro-beads, are produced to put into products such as face wash, toothpaste, and cleansers.
In this day and age, people heavily rely on plastic for almost everything. This heavy reliance has increasingly begun to negatively impact both our planets health and our own health. Plastic in the ocean not only harms our sea life – killing animals such as whale and coral reefs – but greatly effects the health of the people and contributes to warming. If you still don’t believe that this is effecting you, you might be surprised by the fact that you might be eating or drink things that contain these tiny plastics.
How exactly do these plastics end up in our food? When larger plastic items make their way into the ocean, they are eventually broken down by the sun, the motion of the waves, and natural fragmentation. Tiny threads from our synthetic clothing make their way from our clothes washers into wastewater systems, and eventually into the ocean. Micro-beads from facial scrubs, toilet cleaners, and similar products are flushed into our water systems. However this is not where it ends.
Microplastics sent to our oceans, are eaten by marine life, which in turn are eaten by humans or larger animals. Unfortunately, when plastic accumulates inside of these animals digestive systems, although they may feel full they are not able to attain the proper nutrients that they need. There is some evidence that microplastics can absorb toxic chemicals and then release them in an animal’s digestive systems. Similarly, there is also evidence that potentially-toxic plastic nano-particles may be able to migrate through the intestinal wall during digestion. Whether they then enter the bloodstream is not yet clear.
This is only one case of how plastic has effected both our planet and ourselves. As explained by National Geographic, in 2018 a pilot whale was found dead in Thailand. The cause, starvation. During this whale’s autopsy, 17 pounds of plastic were found in its stomach. This pilot whale starved to death because the plastic found in its stomach made it impossible for it to eat nutritional food.
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s executive director states, “This is one pilot whale, this doesn’t consider other species. It’s symbolic at best, but it’s symbolic of an incredibly significant problem (National Geographic).”