Microplastic A New Threat For Our Environment
Today we are living on the earth surrounded by plastics everywhere. From small useful tools to big structures, plastic has proved its presence.
Microplastic A New Threat
Today we are living on the earth surrounded by plastics everywhere. From small useful tools to big structures, plastic has proved its presence. There is barely any place that can be found without plastics. It is constantly polluting our environment and it's clearly visible in every garbage piles, whether on the ground, under-ground and floating on water bodies. But the pollution that is caused by microplastics is apparently invisible.
Microplastics are very tiny plastic particles. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. based environmental organization, microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 mm. A marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom named Professor Richard Thompson was the first to introduce the term ‘microplastics’ in 2004.
These tiny particles are found in many places air, water, water beds, soil- to name a few. Its presence in our environment is threatening. To measure the possible effects of this pollution, scientists started researching on this issue. The research has been started from the previous decade and already the scientists have come out with the brutal effects of this pollution.
They make a kind of grey mist in our environment. Microplastics are of two types- primary microplastic and secondary microplastic. During wear and tear of different plastic products, it emits as a by-product or dust. Another minor but important type of microplastic is nano plastics.
The research that they performed for several years is able to detect the sources from where these microplastics come. Sewage treatment plants or wastewater treatment plants remove contaminants from wastewater by using both primary and secondary treatment stages. Microplastics have been detected in both stages. Vehicles’ tires also produce a lot of microplastics as they constantly create abrasion on the road.
The cosmetics industries are largely responsible for spreading microplastics. Most of the cosmetics are packed in plastic tubes or pots. Face washes, hand soaps, and other personal care products contain them. Many studies show that clothing produces different types of synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, acrylics, spandex, etc.
The use of raw plastics is frequent in many manufacturing companies and they produce microplastic wastes polluting the environment. The companies are situated near water bodies for dumping wastes and garbage into them. Many fishing companies consist of recreational and commercial fishing, marine vessels all of whom are sources of plastic. The whole fishing process is responsible for creating a lot of microplastics. The commercial shipping rate has increased in recent years. It also contributes to microplastic pollution. Plastic bottles that are being used everywhere, strengthen the threats of this pollution.
The instance of microplastic is found in all places. Many industrially developed countries like China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam dump their plastic wastes into the ocean. A study in 2015 estimates that the range of microplastics in the world’s ocean can be between 93 and 236 metric tons!
This presence of them is not confined in oceans only. The freshwater ecosystem is full of them and it’s proved by many kinds of research. For example, we can take the first study of microplastics held in 2011. It examined Lake Huron sediment samples and declared that there were 37.8 fragments per square meter. If it is the condition of one specific lake, then we can estimate how horrible the condition of the whole freshwater ecosystem is.
Soil is the best receiver and can decompose bio-organic and even man-made elements. But microplastics are not biodegradable and they destroy soil fertility. Microplastic that ends in soil causes harm. How much? It is not estimated yet because proper researches are still going on.
Our atmosphere is also affected by them. Microplastics and microfibers are found in both indoor and outdoor air. They are also found in snow samples.
The side effects of microplastics can be immense. Their impact can be detected in both the ecosystem and human health. The term ‘micro’ refers to the smallest part. The phytoplankton and the zooplankton are the producers of any ecosystem appearing with the smallest size. The feeders dependent on them now confuses them with microplastics. They eat microplastics and primary feeders eat them too. For example, lantern fish is a small fish that is proven to accumulate microplastics in its stomach in recent research. This fish is the main food for some commercial fishes like tuna and swordfish. If we eat them, then it is possible that the tiny plastic particles also enter into our body system.
In a recent experiment that combines marine and freshwater ecosystem in 2018 shows that more than 114 aquatic species contain microplastic in their body. Many fish, crabs, and sea birds consume microplastic on the water surface mistakenly by assuming them foods. If these major elements of the ecosystem ingest fewer quality foods themselves, then the dependent feeders on them may also lack proper nutrition by eating these species. And if the bottom-line producer’s intake harmful objects like microplastics, this consumption eventually harms the whole ecosystem.
Animal tissues are widely being affected as microplastics are embedded in them by ingestion or respiration. Its presence is apparent in many species’ digestive and respiratory tracts. Microplastics are also able to absorb many harmful chemical pollutants and they can be transferred into the organism's tissues. Scientists have been working on this issue by researching some of the species only. But they need more research to identify more alarming facts.
The human being is really dependent on fish for its protein value. If microplastic is the starting point of a food chain, humans are the ending point. That means, wherever the microplastics are, they will eventually end up in the human body. The tiny plastic fibers can directly react with metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other toxic contaminants while staying in the water. Their new bond-made complexes directly enter into our bodies.
The Food Chain of Microplastic
How harmful the effects of these microplastics depends on which type of toxic elements were used to make them and what product they carried. Anogenital distance, penile width, and testicular descent are some of the defects that can harm a pregnant woman to give birth to a male infant. To harden plastics, many companies use BPA and it can cause diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and abnormalities in liver enzymes.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is present in sea salt and every day we consume microplastic by ingesting sea salt. They are present in our foods, beers and even honey. It takes 14 days to come out of the body via stool. In a study on human feces of 8 individuals from Europe and Japan in 2018, scientists detected microplastics. As the environment is surrounded by tiny plastic parts, it is obvious that they can be found in every individual body. How much harm they are going to do is still unknown. The present situation is the result of the last 20 years. But in the 100 years of its damaging effects can be crucial, predict the experts.
We know the fatal consequence of microplastic pollution already. So, we cannot wait for a hundred years to see the ultimate result of this pollution. We have to act responsibly to at least lessen the rate of its spreading. The best way to do this is to create awareness at the individual, local and international levels. Reusing and recycling are two great tools to reduce this. Companies should think about an alternative to plastic for packaging purposes. More organic and degradable elements can be used to reduce plastic usage in them. The concerned authority should enact proper law, enforce them and penalize the companies in case of any disobedience.
Many forums and campaigns are already being held in many countries to stop or ban microplastics. "Beat the Microbead" is a kind of campaign that works on removing plastics from personal care products. Microplastics are causing trans-boundary issues in many countries that affect the harmonious relationship among themselves. UNESCO has come forward in this issue and sponsoring research and global assessment programs to solve this problem. The companies are being constantly pressurized by the environmental groups to ensure a better and healthier ecosystem.
Many developed countries have come forward with their unique ideas to fight against this pollution. China stopped importing recyclables from other countries and forced them to re-examine their systems. Some states in the USA have started to lessen microplastics’ negative effects. Japan passed a bill in 2018 to reduce microplastic pollution from the environment especially from the aquatic environment. The European Union also made strict rules to mitigate this pollution. It proposed a restriction on intentionally added microplastics in 2019. The UK banned the use of microplastics in beauty products in 2017 by enacting a law. The law ensures a penalty when it is not obeyed.