5 Surprising Things You Are Doing at Home that Contribute to the Massive Microplastic Pollution
- Jul 5, 2019
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What are microplastics?
Microplastics are extremely tiny pieces of plastic which are smaller than 5 mm. As a result of their diminutive size, sewage and wastewater treatment plants are not able to remove them with the filters. Therefore, these tiny shreds of plastic eventually make their way into the oceans and rivers.
Where do microplastics come from?
Microplastics originate from a wide variety of sources and are categorised into primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are manufactured plastic microbeads which are made from polyethylene plastic. These microbeads are commonly used in beauty products such as cosmetics and personal hygiene products such as cleansers and toothpastes. Secondary microplastics come from larger plastic discards that have been broken down into smaller pieces from UV and environmental element exposure over time. They enter the ocean and the river through surface runoff, plastic landfills, drainage networks and wastewater treatment plants.
Why are microplastics harmful to us?
Image from Microplastics
Do you know? Microplastics are made of plastic which is non-biodegradable and insoluble! An average person could ingest 100,000 plastic particles a year — equal to one credit card a week!
Image from BBC
As a result, the microplastics pose grave danger to the environment once they enter the food chain; starting when animals ingest the microplastics infested oceans and rivers. Eventually, the microplastics end up in our body through contaminated food; yes, around 114 aquatic species have been found to be contaminated with fibers of microplastics!
One study has discovered that up to 273 microplastic particles per pound (600 particles per kilogram) of salt (Microplastic Pollution in Table Salts from China) were present when 15 different brands of sea salt are examined!
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The negative health impact of the microplastic contamination is beginning to show (source). Some of the possible side effects include increased growth of breast cancer cells, toxic accumulation in the liver, kidneys and intestines, airborne microplastics that may induce lung cells to make inflammatory chemicals and disruption of reproductive hormones by Bisphenol A (BPA), a well known endocrine disruptor.
5 surprising things you are doing at home that contribute to the massive microplastic pollution!
1. Using garment and bed linen which are increasingly made of plastic
Many of the garment and bed linen are made of polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide, aside from natural materials such as cotton and linen. As a result, they can shed up to 700,000 microfibres microplastic with each wash.
Image from Helpwiththewashing
What can you do to stop microplastic pollution? Always check the label to ensure that your purchases are made up of 100% natural organic material. Furthermore, avoid over-washing the items and opt for sun dry instead of tumble dry.
2. Using laundry, dishwasher pods and tablets which contain tons of microplastics
Detergents and disinfectants that contain scrubbing agents have microplastics (made of either polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP)) which are released during each wash.
Image from Helpwiththewashing
What can you do to stop microplastic pollution? Switch to plastic free detergents, dishwasher and soap nuts, which are made from plant-derived ingredients which are earth-friendly alternatives.
3. Using wet wipes for almost everything
Almost all wipes (hand wipes, feminine, baby wipes, make-up removing wipes, wet wipes, kitchen or floor wipes) are made from polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene – or a mixture of those plastics and natural fibers. Aside from non-biodegradable, when these synthetic fibres are flushed down the toilet bowl, they are usually the cause of expensive sewer blockages and beach contamination. The Marine Conservation Society in the UK found a steep 50% increase in wipes found on beaches between 2013 and 2014. Unsurprisingly, when these wet wipes found their way into the sea, they also contribute significantly to the presence of microplastic pollution!
Image from Tata and Howard
What can you do to stop microplastic pollution? Switch to the more eco-friendly traditional all-cotton flannel. Always dispose the wet wipes properly and never flush them down the toilet bowl!
4. Using tea bags
Unknown to many, most tea products make extensive use of plastics; from their packing to their tea bags! In fact, their tea bags are made of plastic polymer, polypropylene which seals up, holds the contents of the tea bags together and retains the tea bag shape when they are soaked in boiling hot water.
Image from Treading my own path
What can you do to stop microplastic pollution? Avoid purchasing tea in the form of tea bags! Always choose to purchase the loose-leaf tea, which is cheaper and more flavorful as they are not grounded to dust!
5. Using Personal Care and Cosmetic Products (PCCPs) with microbeads
Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres specially manufactured to use together with PCCs such as shower gels, makeup, toothpaste and lotions to add an exfoliating effect or simply to make the products look more attractive. These are usually made from polyethylene, a synthetic resin which is also widely used for plastic bags and packaging. Due to their size, they will bypass the filtration systems and invade the oceans and rivers. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, between 15 and 30% of microplastics are derived from primary microplastics!
Image from 5gyres.org
What can you do to stop microplastic pollution? Find out whether the PCCPs contain microbeads by doing a quick online check at Beat the Microbead before making the purchase.
Here is a very useful infographic that summarizes the threat of microplastics
Image from GreenMatch
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