Pesky plastic: The true harm of microplastics in the oceans

Plastics break down in aquatic environments and get consumed by fish, zooplankton and invertebrates. Credit: Archipelagos Institute.

Co-authored by Jessica Perelman

Plastics break down in aquatic environments and get consumed by fish, zooplankton and invertebrates. Credit: Archipelagos Institute.

Pollution is evidently a major concern when talking about environmental protection in light of human development, but waste that ends up in the oceans is oftentimes overlooked. This is in part because many people do not come face-to-face with it on a daily basis, and the effects caused by contaminating the world’s waterways have not yet reverberated back to affect humans in a substantial way. This “out of sight, out of mind” mentality keeps people from truly understanding the consequences of marine pollution and heedless disposal of waste items. From solid garbage to sewage disposal to fertilizer runoff, more than 80% of waste that ends up in the ocean is generated on land, and one of the major contributors to this mess is plastic. As useful as it is, plastic is a substance that is made to last and does not biodegrade significantly. With numerous recycling and reusable product initiatives circulating today, including water bottles and grocery bag usage to name a few, it seems that strong actions are being taken to minimize the amount of plastic that end up in the environment, which will ultimately help keep it out of the oceans.

There is a certain type of plastic, however, whose damaging effects are not yet widely recognized by the public, and these are microplastics. Microplastics are particles less than five millimeters in size that deteriorate from larger plastic pieces that have entered the oceans. The issue with them has recently come into light due to the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products such as exfoliating shower gel, toothpaste, and makeup, which all wash down the drain. These plastic ingredients can comprise up —> Read More

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