The life of your body scrub after you shower
Big oceans filled with tiny plastic: microplastics
- By Violette Defourt
Allow me to tell you a little somethin’ somethin’ about a subject I am particularly passionate about: Ever heard of microplastics? Well, the name pretty much says it all: they’re tiny pieces of plastic.
Primary microplastics are produced with the aim of serving a purpose. The small beads you would find in your Nivea face wash or the “microcrystals” that make your Colgate toothpaste so special would qualify perfectly as microplastics. Washing polyester clothes or your favorite fleece also sheds off plastic fibers that subsequently flow down your drain. On the other hand, secondary microplastics are the direct result of the breakdown of dumped plastic garbage in the ocean into their constitutive pieces from the reaction with the sunlight and the saltwater. Lastly, microplastics can also exist as a byproduct. For instance, as dust generated by used tires, paint, waste treatment, or textile washing. (Wright et al., 2013) (Jære, 2016) (Boucher J. & Friot, D., 2017)
But what’s the big fuss about them? Well, as the fragmented plastics are so small, they are not extracted from the water before being dumped into rivers and oceans. What makes them a disaster is that, due to their size, they cannot be taken out of the world’s waters with simple ocean cleanups or water purification. Moreover, they are easily ingested by the smallest sea organisms and, remaining in the animal tissues, work their way up the food chain to… well, us… *Padum Tschh*. Alternatively, a too great ingestion of these plastics can simply lead to animal death, an ecological disaster. The plastic material also has a potential to bind to polluting chemicals that again is consumed by sea fauna, uncovering the microplastic’s toxic effect. (Thompson et al., 2004)
Assumptions are made to evaluate the severity of the impact on the environment. According to the IUCN, primary microplastics represent approximately 30% of the entire plastic pollution (Boucher J. & Friot, D., 2017). Moreover, microplastic patches, some kind of microplastic tornadoes formed by confluent water currents, have been discovered in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Their size is very difficult to evaluate but some estimate it to measure up to the size of the state Texas. And that’s like, … big. (Wright et al., 2013)
But there is one great thing about this problem: you can help solve it little by little every day! A good starting point would be to observe and acknowledge the omnipresence of plastic, and eventually realize much of it is for single use and fundamentally unnecessary. Your next move would be to reduce your plastic use and consumption.
For instance, a first thing to scratch off your shopping list would be any product with primary microplastics. Carefully read the labels and scan for petrol-derived
components in the products you purchase. Do not be fooled by sciencey names! Also, you could make your beauty or cleaning products yourself: it’s fun, creative,
satisfactory and cheap! It is also a great way to insure what you consume is natural, good for you and our beloved blue planet. Finally, educate yourself on this topic, recognize small changes, brainstorm, question and talk about it with your peers,
Peace, love and plastic-free vibes,
By Violette Defourt
Boucher, J., Friot, D. (2017), Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources, IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Retrieved from https://www.iucn.org/content/primary-microplastics-oceans on 03-01-2018, Publication ID46622
Galloway, T. S., & Lewis, C. N. (2016). Marine microplastics spell big problems for future generations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(9), 2331-2333.
Jære, L., Researching the dark side of microplastics, 24 October 2016, Gemini.no, retrieved from https://www.sintef.no/en/latest-news/researching-the-dark-side-of-microplastics/ on 28 december 2017
Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R.P., Davis, A., Rowland, S.J, John, A.W.G., McGonigle, D., Russell, A.E. (2004) Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?, Science, 304(5672), 838-838, Issue 5672, pp. 838, DOI: 10.1126/science.1094559
Wright, S. L., Thompson, R. C., & Galloway, T. S. (2013). The physical impacts of microplastics on marine organisms: a review. Environmental Pollution, 178, 483-492.