It’s no secret that microplastic pollution has become one of the biggest environmental challenges in the world.
Every year, we produce around 380 million tons of plastic, and only 10% is recycled on average worldwide.
So what is microplastic? Where does it end up, and how does it impact nature, animals, and humans?
We’ll take a closer look in this article and let you know how you can make a difference in your efforts to minimize plastic waste.
What is microplastic pollution?
In the process of breaking down larger plastics at recycling facilities and developing commercial plastic products, you end up with tiny plastic particles, known as microplastic.
Because most of the produced plastic can’t or won’t be recycled, most of it ends up in landfills, polluting the environment.
Microplastic then naturally breaks down by being exposed to environmental factors such as sun radiation and ocean waves. However, microplastic can take several hundred years to naturally break down into harmless molecules.
Because of this, the process can potentially leach toxic substances into the soil and our drinking water. This can be harmful to animals and humans.
Types of microplastics
There are two types of microplastics; primary and secondary microplastics.
Primary microplastics stem from the production of commercial products such as cosmetics. It can also be microfibers shed from textiles such as fishing nets and clothes.
You often see primary microplastics floating around on beaches as multicolored plastic bits in the sand.
Secondary microplastics are particles that come from breaking down larger plastics such as water bottles and other single-use plastics.
Microplastics can be so tiny, you can barely see them. Microplastics are generally considered plastic that’s less than 5 millimeters across.
These types of microplastic float around in the air, on land, and in the oceans. Because of this, it’s almost inevitable for animals and people to consume it at some point, in some way.
Microplastics in the ocean
A lot of plastics end up in nature because of littering. But microplastic pollution also occurs frequently from storms, water runoff, and winds that carry it further into the wild and especially into the ocean.
Microplastics in the ocean are easy for marine animals to consume accidentally. But the worst part is that microplastic can bind with other harmful chemicals before any living organism ingests it.
The marine animals are then caught and turned into commercial seafood. Since microplastic and harmful chemicals might not be detected in the process, it can be so small that you might be completely unaware that you’re consuming it.
So how can we minimize these environmental hazards?
How to minimize microplastic pollution
As consumers and travelers, the best thing we can do to reduce microplastic pollution is to not use plastic at all.
However, if this is too big of a step, there are other things you can do.
For instance, there are products that can substitute plastics, especially the single-use kind.
Here are a few examples:
- Use eco-friendly reusable bags
- Bring your own reusable bottles, straws, utensils, and containers when shopping, eating out, and traveling
- Choose eco-friendly hotels and tours that implement a zero plastic effort
Many countries around the world are also working hard in their efforts toward zero plastic waste. You can read all about it here.
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