Microplastic: Definition and Impact on the Environment

Many wastes are generated from human activities, including industry. Some types of waste are small but capable of infiltrating the food chain, buried in Antarctic sea ice, and even in water sources worldwide. One of them is microplastic. 


Microplastics are small plastics that are versatile, but very harmful to the environment, especially the oceans. 

What is Microplastic?

Microplastic is small plastic no more than 5 mm in size and is dangerous because it contains chemicals that can cause poisoning. In its small size, microplastic has the potential to enter the ground network and be carried into seawater.

According to Lusher (2013), microplastic quickly spreads into the ocean, where it settles and is carried away by the waves to mix with beach sand easily. A study reported by bbc.com also estimated that there are around 24.4 trillion fragments of microplastics in the upper regions of the world’s oceans. 

These microplastics can change the behavior of marine animals, where they prefer to consume microplastics rather than planktons because both sizes  are almost the same, and the amount of microplastic is enormous. So, it’s no wonder nowadays, many marine animals have been contaminated with microplastics.

At least, there are two types of microplastics based on their source of origin:

  • Primary microplastics ‒ purposely made microplastics, such as microbeads (plastic beads) intended for beauty and skincare products.
  • Secondary microplastic ‒  originate from larger pieces of plastic waste and is usually scattered in the oceans and lands. 

Microplastic doesn’t only come from those two things but also comes from microbeads in the industry products, plastic pellets, and even the clothes we wear now. Our clothes are not 100 percent cotton but contain synthetic plastic fibers. 

When this synthetic plastic is thrown carelessly into the environment, sooner or later this waste will decompose into microscopic sizes that can damage the food chain and our environment. 

The Impact of Microplastic on the Environment and Humans

Microplastics have various harmful effects, both for the environment and even for humans. Check out the complete information below. 

Source: The Washington Post

#1 Destroy the Food Chain

With the wasting of microplastics into the environment, this small waste is unknowingly absorbed into food crops until livestock and marine animals eat it.

A study in 2020 found that microplastic and nanoplastic are present in fruits and vegetables sold at supermarkets and local grocers in Catania, Sicily, Italy. The study results said apples were the most contaminated fruit with microplastics, while carrots were the most contaminated vegetable. 

The Oceanography Study Program conducted by the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 2021 reported the finding of marine animals containing microplastics. The fact states that the fish samples in Indonesia contain 5 times more microplastics than in America. 

With the presence of microplastics in the stomach of fish, until they are contained in vegetables and fruits, they can enter the human body through the food chain. How could it not be? Our daily food sources are unknowingly contaminated with microplastics. Gradually, the potential dangers of microplastics can spread to human health. 

#2 Trigger Allergic Reactions

For human health, microplastics can be dangerous, one of which is triggering allergic reactions. The level of allergic reactions experienced will differ depending on the health of each person and the amount of exposure to microplastics. 

Symptoms associated with microplastic exposure can include: sneezing; itchy, runny, and stuffy nose; itchy, red, and watery eyes; shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing; red and itchy rash; swelling of the lip, tongue, eyes, or face. 

#3 Trigger Dangerous Diseases

One of the chemicals in plastic, namely styrene, is a carcinogen usually found in plastic food packaging. If these materials enter and accumulate in the body, it can cause several health problems. 

The dangerous potential of microplastics can trigger hazardous diseases in humans, such as activating the growth of tumors and cancer, inhibiting the immune system, interfering with the reproductive system, disorders of the nervous system, and hearing loss. 

#4 Damage Cells in the Body

Apart from triggering disease and allergic reactions, microplastics can also damage cells in the body. Through exposure to high intensity and in the long term, it can trigger hormonal changes. The impact can be cell death, damage to cell walls, or even organ in the body. 

#5 Pollute the Air

Microplastics have been polluted into the air by discovering these contents in the atmosphere, indoors, even the outdoors. According to a 2017 study, indoor air concentrations of microfibres were between 1.0 until 60.0 per cubic meter. 33 percent of them were found to be microplastics. 

Also, another study looked at microplastics in Tehran street dust and found 2,649 microplastic particles in 10 road dust samples. Thus, most of the air we breathe is now polluted by microplastics through flying carried by the wind. 

The impact can also accumulate in humans’ and animals’ respiratory tract and lungs, interfering with the respiratory system. 

#6 Pollute Waters and Oceans

Microplastics are tiny and often found in cleaning or beauty products. They will easily be wasted in waterways and the oceans. Microplastics tend to escape the initial treatment filters in wastewater plants and eventually become widespread in the oceans. 

Even water sources have been polluted by microplastics. According to a research study, microplastics were found throughout the Great Lakes with an average concentration of 43,000 microplastics particles. 

#7 Contaminate the Soil

Not only widespread in water and air and spread to the ground. According to the results of an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, it was found that sewage sludge has contaminated almost 20 million hectares of agricultural land in the United States by containing poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are commonly found in plastic products. 

According to a study by researchers at Cardiff University in Europe, an estimated 8-10 million tonnes of sewage sludge is produced in Europes annually. Because of this plastic, European farmland is the largest global reservoir of microplastics. 

This study means that between 31,000 and 42,000 tonnes of microplastics contaminate European farms yearly. Microplastics can dissolve toxic chemicals into the soil, so that the soil is polluted and dangerous. 

How to Prevent Exposure Microplastics

Seeing the microplastics that can harm the environment and human health, we need to prevent and avoid the intensity of their exposure and use. 

  • Avoid drinking plastic bottles of water because there is a risk of exposure to microplastics.
  • Avoid heating food in plastic, as heated plastic can leach chemicals into your food.
  • Avoid food in plastic packaging, eat fresh and organic food.
  • Reduce the use of various plastic products and disposable cutlery.
  • Don’t throw waste anywhere.
  • Get used to segregating and recycling waste.
  • Change your washing routine by using a lint-trapping filter so the microplastics can be caught and not carried away with the water used for washing. 
  • Use microbead-free cosmetic and skincare products. 

In addition to these efforts, we can also be wiser and more responsible in managing waste. As a waste management company, Waste4Change also participates in efforts to reduce waste. 

Through the Reduce Waste to Landfill service, Waste4Change provides waste management to reduce the amount of waste that accumulates in landfills. Click on w4c.id/RWTL.

Retna Gemilang








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