Plastic is at the top of the list of debris found in salt and fresh waterways. It has been found in all shapes and sizes in which plastic is produced, but microplastics are a fairly new concern to the environment. Microplastic debris is no bigger than a sesame seed, measuring less than five milliliters.
Where Do Microplastics Originate?
Larger plastic items, microbeads, and synthetic clothing are the three major sources of microplastic debris. Fishing gear like nets and fishing line are also a source of microplastics. Toxic contaminants in plastics are also a concern.
Plastic Containers- Plastic containers of all sizes break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they degrade into minute debris. This includes plastic bags, bottles, straws and packaging.
Microbeads- Microbeads, which have been around since at least the 1970s when plastics began to replace natural ingredients, are health, beauty and cleaning additives made of polyethylene plastics. Microbeads may not be new to the environment, but they are recently prevalent. Over the decades, the markets have been flooded with microbeads in an abundance of daily use items like toothpaste, facial cleansers and exfoliants, and household cleaners.
Synthetic Clothing- Polyester, nylon, and cotton synthetic blends are very popular with consumers because they are easy to care for and durable. They also contain microplastic fibers. Multiplying waterproof gear, jeans, dresses, athletic gear, sweaters, socks, t-shirts, and just about any other form of clothing times the number of consumers there are around the world will give you an idea of just part of the problem.
Where Can Microplastics Be Found?
According to a study conducted in Tampa Bay, FL by a collaboration of various colleges of environmental studies at the University of South Florida and Eckerd College, microplastics are everywhere. They have been observed in all bodies of water, even along the Arctic shores. Using the Tampa Bay study as a model, well over four billion particles of microplastics are floating in the bay. That’s about one particle of microplastic per liter of water.
This data only serves the Tampa Bay area, but it is food for thought concerning the rest of the world’s waterways. Researchers believe that the greatest importance to come from the research is to bring awareness to the environmentally friendly community and to consumers in general. This awareness has also sparked subsequent investigations to determine how the problem may be handled since it represents a diverse set of impacts on marine and land ecosystems.
What Is Known for Sure?
Microplastic debris is already present in water for all life that consumes it. Kinsley McEachern, an Environmental Science and Policy graduate student and primary author of the Tampa Bay study, claims that removal of the particles is not possible and that the problem must be stopped at the source, recycling. This must be a systematic effort, and municipalities must educate their residents on the proper way to use and recycle plastic.
If you have any questions about recycling, contact our expert team at Central Kentucky Fiber Resources.