What We Know About Microplastics

Plastic can be seen everywhere in life, bringing convenience to people but also a lot of waste. Do you know where these waste plastics end up?

Over time, since it doesn’t decompose, these plastic items break down into tiny pieces, many of which are smaller than you can see with the unaided eye.

The harm of microplastics entering the environmental system is unknown, but its impact is widespread.

What Are Microplastics

Scientists define microplastics as plastic fragments less than 5 mm in size. This definition could apply to anything from microbeads added to beauty products to aid in exfoliation to glitter made from tiny fragments of colored plastic.

It could also describe larger plastic items broken down over time by weather or impacts. Artificial textiles like polyester can also shed tiny fibers that qualify as microplastics.

Microplastics have been detected in marine organisms from plankton to whales, in commercial seafood, and even in drinking water. Alarmingly, standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms.

Scientists have warned that the situation is out of control. They have found microplastics pretty much everywhere they have looked for them: onmountains, in the ocean, in the Arctic sea ice, and in our air, drinking water and bodies.

Microplastics in the Food Chain

We all know how the food chain works. One animal eats the next until you reach the apex predator at the top that eats everything.

Plastics are already a problem for animal life, especially in the ocean. Turtles are prone to filling up on plastic shopping bags, thinking they’re eating jellyfish. They believe they are full when they’re actually starving to death.

Microplastics present many of the same risks, but instead of starving animals filling up on plastic, it is infiltrating the food chain. Animals consume these microplastics, and before the particles make their way through the animal’s digestive system, they get eaten by the next predator up the food chain.

These plastics also tend to bond with environmental toxins before they’re consumed, bringing those poisons into the animal’s body and allowing them to make their way up the food chain. If humans eat these animals, they’re consuming those microplastics.

Since humans are considered apex predators and nothing is eating them, those plastics can accumulate. Research shows that humans consume about 120,000 microplastic particles each year.

Microplastics in the Human Body

Dietary intake: According to a study, humans can ingest more than 50,000 microplastic particles through food every year, and up to 90,000 microplastic particles through drinking bottled water each year. Also, in 2020, researchers filled disposable paper cups with hot drinks and found 25,000 microplastic particles in the drinks after 15 minutes. If parents use polypropylene feeding bottles to make milk powder, children will ingest more than 1.6 million microplastics for every liter of milk formulated with milk powder.

Breathing: Scientists have found that the amount of microplastics in the air varies greatly from region to region. In outdoor samples in Paris, France, scientists measured an average concentration of microplastics of 53-110 microplastics per square meter per day, and the concentration in Hamburg, Germany was 275 microplastics per square meter per day. It is worth noting that scientists have found that the concentration of microplastics in the indoor environment is higher than that outdoors. For most people, they mainly live indoors, and the amount of microplastics they ingest is higher. Scientists calculated based on the concentration of indoor microplastics and the time that babies spend indoors every day, the number of microplastics that babies ingest indoors through breathing can reach up to hundreds of thousands of microplastics every day.

Skin contact: Although scientists have found microplastics in different toiletries, there is currently not enough evidence to prove that microplastics can be absorbed by the human body through skin contact.

Research on microplastics

The ubiquitous prevalence of microplastics pollution has raised concerns about microplastics' potential risks and impacts on the global environment. However, the potential human health risks and impacts of microplastics remain largely unexplored.

The problem with microplastics isn’t detecting or finding them in human tissue. It’s in understanding the long-term implications of their presence. Microplastics are everywhere, but we haven’t been studying them long enough to know how they could potentially impact human health in the long term.

That isn’t to say we don’t know anything about microplastics. Most of our information comes from studying marine biology and the impact these substances have on marine life. We’ve seen reproductive changes in fish, swimming abnormalities in shrimp, and problems with mussels causing them to weaken their grip on the rocks they call home.

We also understand the impact these chemicals can have on the human body. Still, those studies usually focus on conventional consumption – such as finding BPA in water bottles – or environmental exposure. The study of microplastics in the human body is in its infancy. We’ve got 10 or 15 more years of research before we start seeing the true impact of these microplastics on our overall health as a species.

How to reduce plastic pollution

In our daily life, we should try our best to reduce the behavior of discarding plastic waste and reduce the use of plastic as much as possible, such as bringing shopping bags with us, using eco friendly reusable coffee cups, etc.

In addition, the government has strengthened the control of plastic pollution and improved the management policies of plastic waste. What is most anticipated is the emergence of new biodegradable plastic products like bamboo fiber and sugarcane bagasse. It is hoped that new materials with better performance and more environmental friendliness will be successfully developed as soon as possible.

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