July 02, 2022 4 min read
The utilization of plastic is one of the major conveniences of the modern lifestyle. However, in recent years, microplastic contamination has transformed into an emerging global concern. Microplastics, as the term implies, are meager plastic particles. They are defined as less than 0.2 inches or five millimeters, even smaller in diameter than the standard pearl utilized in jewelry. Since they have an accommodating size and mass, they are readily transported by wind, allowing them to travel to even the remotest of places on the planet, including polar regions and mountains.
But, what are microplastics and why are they a problem? It does not end here. Microplastics are present in edibles we eat and in the water we tend to drink. It would be an understatement to quote that microplastics have only affected human life. In fact, the entire biological organization has been impacted. This blog will examine these tiny particles and how they can potentially hinder the health of humans and other breathing beings.
Dunzhu Li, one of the environmental engineers, while consuming his food at work, discovered that plastic or synthetic food containers release tiny particles known as nanoplastics. A similar issue applies to baby bottles and kettles. You would be astonished to know that the findings were no less than alarming. However, scientists did not know the extent of its harmful effects since we regularly inhale and ingest dust, for instance.
Plastics are of variable composition. Besides, they comprise an array of additives:
As they are under production, even more, plastic waste will be produced and discarded. And, due to its durability and robustness, the resultant pollution might last for several years. On the other hand, the microplastic issue continues to worsen with each passing year. Several surveys suggest that the annual projected microplastic production approximates around 400 million tonnes and is anticipated to be doubled by 2050.
Mentioned are some factors that lead to the ubiquity of airborne microplastics:
Some research found microplastics in the people’s feces from Russia, Europe, and Japan, confirming that humans ingest microplastics. This study also stated that some microplastics are egested from human bodies. But is it valid for all ingested microplastics, or does a specific percentage stay in our bodies? Or, what do microplastics do to humans exactly? To understand the subject, an array of animal studies has been organized and regulated to understand the subject, allowing scientists to find that the most meager-looking microplastics can travel through the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream.
Moving on, these particles can travel throughout the rest of the body parts. For instance, microplastics were detected in rats' intestines, stomach, heart, and kidneys. Researchers have even detected microscopic plastic particles in the fetuses of mice and the fish brain. Based on such studies, investigators have hypothesized that our exposure to microplastics might lead to the following dysfunctioning issues:
When inflammation becomes a chronic issue, this could lead to severe health problems. However, it is not just the plastic particles themselves: the microplastic surface in the environment is colonized by microorganisms, which have been acknowledged as human pathogens. Furthermore, plastic doesn’t biodegrade and can repeatedly travel significant distances in aquatic settings. So, it would be better if we’d ask: does plastic litter contribute to or accommodate the spread of pathogens?
Nobody’s sure about this. Even researchers can’t estimate and put up a figure to testify. In such a case, scientists are presented with a considerable challenge. This is because current analytical procedures can’t detect the tiniest microplastics in human samples (like blood) or food. Consequently, there’s still a limited amount of knowledge of the extent of our vulnerability or exposure to microplastic particles. Without comprehending exposure, researchers and investigators can’t determine risk.
Based on available data, some scientists attempted to calculate the annual microplastic intake by an average American in 2019. The figure ranged between 75,000 and 120,000 particles, which depends on the sex and age of the citizen. However, they believe this is an underestimation as only 14-15% of food ingested could be assessed.
Microplastics are partially a byproduct of plastic litter. As a result, to alleviate the spread of microplastics, it’s essential to reduce plastic use and litter creation. Choosing reusable items can minimize instances of plastic. In addition, consider purchasing items in as little plastic packaging as possible or backing companies that tend to pack things in recyclable packaging.
The UNEP has estimated that approximately 35% of the entire ocean microplastic originates from users washing their clothes. Synthetic textiles such as fleece and other plastic-based items break off as they tumble through the washing machine process and end up in plastic microfibers, ultimately flowing into the water table.
In early 2019, the Google Science Fair winner, Fionn Ferreira, experimented with magnetite powder, a type of iron oxide that could be utilized to clean up oil spills.
Did you know the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of the big problems, and one can only solve this challenge by cleaning things before it gets any worse? Once those plastic items become microplastic, they transform into something nearly impossible to eliminate. Thus, the answer to this question is to remove plastic from the ocean bed before it becomes micro.
Clearly, a lot needs to be done to understand and determine the amount of microplastic an individual can ingest. On the basis of the available insight, WHO concluded a study quoting microplastics in drinking water tend to pose no risk to a being’s health. Meanwhile, The Plastic Health Coalition has argued that there are several knowledge gaps in assessing microplastics' health complications and risks. In the end, scientific research is undergoing and finding numerous means to conduct specific investigations. Even though they are in the infancy stage, we can’t ignore the fact that the global issue of microplastic is on a significant rise.