We live in a world where we are surrounded by plastics. We can find plastics from packaging materials to appliances and medical devices. Plastics have brought many societal benefits, but our current approach to plastic use and disposal have resulted in the widespread of microplastics in the environment. Therefore, Water Wednesdays in September will focus on Microplastics. Last Water Wednesdays, we learned what microplastics are.
What are micoplstics?
Microplastics include plastic particles with an upper size limit of 5 mm (0.2 inch). They come from a variety of sources. One major source is from larger plastic debris that breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over time. The other major source is microbeads. They are very tiny pieces of manufactured plastic that are added to health and beauty products, such as some deodorants and makeup products. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in water. In addition, the fleeces we love to wear are also contributing to the plastics in our waters. Today’s sportswear often has synthetic fibers to create stretchy, breathable clothing, but more of these fibers shed off with every wash.
Why do we care?
Microplastics are difficult to remove during the wastewater treatment process because they are small and buoyant. They are easily carried with wastewater to water bodies. Microplastics are consumed by a wide range of organisms. They can impair the ability of organisms to eat and cause harm. In addition, toxic chemicals such as PCBs, PAHs, and bisphenol A on or in the plastics themselves may transfer to biota via ingestion of microplastics.
What can we do?
Our understanding of potential future trends in the abundance of microplastics is limited. The microplastic contamination is likely to continue to grow. There are different ways to get involved and help raise awareness about microplastics in our waters and help keep them clean. The simplest way is to reduce your plastic waste, such as avoid using plastic drinking straws, use reusable shopping bags instead of single use plastic ones, and choose more natural fabrics rather than microfiber or other synthetic fabrics.
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