June 06, 2022 4 min read

Microplastics are little plastic fragments with a length of less than 5 mm (0.2 inches) found in the environment. In addition, they can be found in various products, comprising cosmetics, synthetic garments, and plastic bags and bottles. Besides, people dispose of these products in the environment.

Different Types of Microplastics - Primary and Secondary

Microbeads in personal care products, plastic pellets (or nurdles) used in industrial manufacturing, and plastic fibers used in synthetic fabrics are all examples of primary microplastics (e.g., nylon). Product use (e.g., personal care products being washed into wastewater systems from residences), accidental loss from spills during manufacture or transport, or abrasion during washing are ways that primary microplastics enter the environment (e.g., laundering of clothing made with synthetic textiles).

Secondary microplastics are formed when bigger plastics degrade due to weathering, such as exposure to wave action, wind abrasion, and UV radiation from sunlight.

Microplastics and Its Contribution to the Environment

Microplastics do not decompose. Due to this, the primary and secondary microplastics get collected and remain in the ecosystem. Microplastics have been identified in marine and freshwater habitats. In the early twenty-first century, annual plastic pollution from plastics was projected to be between 4 million and 14 million tonnes in oceans. Microplastics, found in dust and airborne fiber particles, are also a source of air pollution.

Microplastics were found in around 114 marine species in both sea and freshwater in 2018. Microplastics have also been found in the tissues and digestive systems of many invertebrates, including crustaceans like crabs. Microplastics floating on the water surface are likely consumed by fish and birds who mistake them for food. Microplastic ingestion can cause aquatic organisms to consume less food, resulting in less energy to carry out basic life activities and neurological and reproductive damage. Microplastics are thought to have made their way up the food chain in the ocean, from zooplankton and small fish to massive marine predators.

Drinking water, beer, and food goods, including seafood and table salt, have all contained microplastics. Microplastics were found in every participant's stool sample in preliminary research involving eight people from eight nations. Microplastics have also been discovered in human tissues and organs. The human health ramifications of these discoveries remained unknown.

Impact of Microplastics on Water

Many people are concerned about microplastics in their drinking water. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report that compiled data from 50 studies to determine the severity of the problem.

Microplastics in Water

Two primary sources of microplastics enter the water system.

Runoff from terrestrial sources, such as:

  • Landfill

  • Abrasion of synthetic materials such as footwear and artificial turf due to the disintegration of road-marking paints and debris from tire wear

  • Sewage sludge and agricultural plastics used in mulching

Untreated and treated wastewater overflow, including microplastic fibers generated when washing synthetic garments:

  • Plastic breakdown in river catchments

  • Cosmetic microbeads are little bits of more oversized products, such as sanitary pads and wet wipes, that are flushed down the toilet when they shouldn't be.

Other sources of microplastic in water include pollution, sewer overflows, and industrial waste. Degradation of construction materials and clothing drying on a laundry line are examples of contributing everyday occurrences.

How Harmful are Microplastics?

Microplastics offer a threat to humans in three ways: physically, chemically, and as a breeding ground for other microbes. Because each plastic comprises a unique combination of chemicals, determining the risks microplastics bring to humans is difficult. Plastics occur in various shapes, sizes, and textures, all of which have an impact on their toxicity.

The effects of the same material vary depending on the concentration and how a person was exposed to it, such as whether plastic was swallowed, inhaled, or injected. The rate at which the chemical is released is determined by the chemical's interactions with the plastic and its location within the body.

What Are the Environmental Impacts of Microplastics?


Microplastics have substantial environmental implications, with marine areas being the most investigated. Microplastics can travel through streams and wind up in ecosystems that are home to various marine life, including algae, zooplankton, fish, crabs, sea turtles, and birds, once released or torn away from their initial plastic product. Entanglement occurs when marine life becomes entangled in pieces of plastic, such as old fishing lines, and is strangled to death. Because living organisms so quickly eat microplastics, they are also a worry, particularly in the ocean. When a fish or invertebrate consumes microplastics, they may develop health issues such as severe interference with or abrasion of their digestive tracts, which can be fatal.

Furthermore, other contaminants from the water tend to gather on the surface of these microplastics, and when animals eat the plastic, they eat the hazardous compounds as well. These toxins build up in their bodies and gradually work their way up the food chain.

How Can Consumers Reduce Microplastics in The Environment?

Microplastics are prevented from entering the environment when consumers manage their exposure to microplastics. Researchers advise that single-use plastics can be prevented by using reusable glass bottles and containers instead of exfoliating cosmetics that contain microbeads.

Several greener plastics are being developed, but few people know them. These are plant-based products that are biodegradable and have properties the same as those found in leaves, trees, and grass. People must be aware of their existence and demand that they are included in your offerings. People can be optimistic about the future because a consumer drive for greener products will encourage the industry to employ technical competence to develop constructive solutions. With efforts from people and the contribution of leaders, governments, and industrial owners, the issues can be curbed, and the goal of a clean and green environment can be met.