Magnifying Microplastic: The Plastic Waste That’s Entering Our Food Chain

Microplastic is a small plastic no bigger than 5 mm in length. It was mostly found in the seas. The microscopic size allowed it to enter the digestive system of marine animals that later would be consumed by humans.

People all over the world are considering microplastic as a health threat. We knew that some chemicals inside the plastic water bottle that we use might affect our health, so what can a microplastic that is able to enter our digestive tract and bloodstream do to us?

The news gets scarier every day. From the picture of a dead seagull with a stomach full of plastic cup and plastic bottle lid, to the discovery of microplastic inside the fish that we often eat, and the fact that someone has found the microscopic inorganic material in a human baby’s placenta.

It was even said that microplastic has been found in human’s lungs. This only means one thing, we could also inhale microplastic without even knowing it.

We never meant to include plastic in our evolution journey, but it seems that the event is inescapable – unless we move fast to reduce the number of plastic waste that enters our oceans.

Microplastic infographic
Source: Microplastic in freshwater system

The History & Types of Microplastic

When did microplastic enter our picture? 

According to the journal and scientific literature, we have been aware of the existence of microplastic within the environment since the 1970s. Plastic microbeads first appeared in personal care products about 50 years ago, and it’s been polluting our oceans ever since.

There are 2 types of microplastic:

  • Primary microplastic – a microplastic that is purposely manufactured such as the microbeads in the personal care products
  • Secondary microplastic – a microplastic that is derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris that is spreaded out on both seas and land

Where Does Microplastic Come From?

Besides microbeads in industry, plastic pellets, and the breakdown of larger plastic debris, the most probably most shocking microplastic source might be from our clothing.

Yes, our clothing isn’t made from 100% cotton, there’s plastic fibres (also known as synthetic textiles) in it that makes our clothes more stretchy, airy, and light. These benefits come with a price: microplastic that releases into the environment.

The bottom line is, any plastic that we have thrown carelessly into the environment, will soon or later break down into microscopic size that could come back to us in a way we never thought before. The inorganic material could leave residual waste that we cannot process quickly, and we need to find solution for that.

So we need to be more wise in dealing with our plastic waste.

microplastic
Source: Sustainable Plastics

The Prevention Efforts

In 2015, the US government initiated the Microbead-Free Waters Act to prohibit the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. Similar actions were also taken by the UK in 2017, Japan in 2018, EU in 2018, and China in 2018.

Many famous brands, especially personal care products brands that produce toothpaste, detergent, soap, face mask, and face wash are swapping their use of microbeads into a more environmentally-friendly material. Several options are ready for consideration: crushed walnut shells, oats, sugar and jojoba seeds – known as natural microbeads.

We might have not seen the negative effects of microplastic in the human body, but we don’t have to wait until the horror becomes real. We could start taking our concrete actions now by reducing plastic waste in every part of our life.

We might not be able to eliminate it completely even with our carbon credit and carbon offset program, but we could try to stop the accumulation of it.

Remember Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3R) when dealing with waste and don’t forget to segregate your waste. Know your plastic waste, check what kind of plastic type could be recycled easily and which one needs special care in order not to let it accumulate in the landfill and environment.

Reference

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/22/microplastics-revealed-in-placentas-unborn-babies

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20181116STO19217/microplastics-sources-effects-and-solutions

https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/microbead-free-waters-act-faqs

https://www.popsci.com/cellulose-microbeads/

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