Microplastics: What they are and how you can reduce them
Author : Amal Rahiman
Size does not matter. It’s true.
Microplastics are less than 5mm in size. That’s it. But the damage they cause to the environment is massive and deadly.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are either made intentionally small- such as those microbeads you would find in toothpaste and facewashes – or they were a part of a bigger piece of plastic that slowly degraded to a micro size; such as a disintegrating plastic bottle.
Plastic is not biodegradable, but it does disintegrate over time. It ends up being so small that you may not even see it, but you will feel the effects of it.
Microplastics can now be found in our soil, in our waters, and in the airwe breathe (yes, it’s just that small!). The oceans are so heavily polluted with plastics, that by 2050, there would be more microplastics than fish in our waters.
Since we are surrounded by so much plastic, it is safe to say that we are inhaling and consuming plastic. Microplastics have been found in human organs – even in growing foetuses.
There is limited study on the long-term effects of plastic in the human body, and it’s been found that plastic gets pushed out of the body through faeces, but this is hardly good news. The chemicals used in plastic production can affect foetal growth and hormone imbalances. Having these chemicals inside our bodies, even for a short period of time, cannot bring good news.
Our lives are so entwined with plastics, that it’s difficult to even picture a day without using some form of plastic. Being conscious about our plastic usage and avoiding single-use plastic can bring about some change in our plastic-polluted environment.
Here are a few ways to reduce our plastic consumption:
1. Avoid fast fashion, and buy sustainable clothing:
The clothing industry is the largest contributor to pollution and greenhouse gases. While the production of any clothing causes pollution, the production of synthetic clothing produces microplastics (or microfibers). Nylon, polyester, rayon, and acrylic are a few examples of plastic in clothing. Washing and producing these materials releases microfibers into the waters, through wastewater sewage.
Try mindful shopping and shop from sustainable brands that use organic fibers, like cotton. Reducing the demand for fast fashion would help in reducing the supply and wastage of clothes and textiles.
2. Air dry your laundry:
A single household dryer can release up to 120 million microfibers into the air in just one year. So, imagine how much plastic pollution we can reduce, by simply air drying our clothes.
Additionally, washing clothes release microplastics into the water stream, which can be avoided by installing quality filters. Reducing the amount of water used for washing also reduces the chances of plastics entering our waters.
3. Avoid bottled water:
Each time you reach out for a plastic bottle of water, imagine tiny particles of plastic entering your bloodstream! While tap water does have microplastics in them, bottled water contains double the amount of microplastics. Instead, use refillable bottles made out of steel or silicone, and drink filtered water wherever possible.
4. Avoid single-use plastics:
Disposable grocery bags, plastic cutlery, takeaway containers, straws, and single-use coffee cups are all leaching into our environment in the form of microplastics. Something that we use for a few minutes can cause hundreds of years’ worth of damage. Instead, bring your own bags to the grocery stores, buy loose fruits and vegetables, and invest in a good set of steel straws and reusable coffee cups. Everything has an alternative, that we can make use of.
5. Avoid microbeads in cosmetics:
You might have found small beads in your facewashes or shower gels, that are designed to give you an exfoliating experience. Not only are you not supposed to scrub your face with plastic, but these beads flow into the water stream as well. Since these beads cause more harm than good, they are banned in the US as of 2015.
Be mindful of the grooming products you use and avoid any product that lists acrylate copolymer and phthalate as ingredients.
6. Use loose tea instead of teabags:
According to this study, 11.6 billion microplastics are released into the drink when tea is brewed using teabags. That’s more plastic than the tea you are consuming!
Instead use steel tea strainers, linen tea bags, or tea balls to brew tea. Most of the commercially made tea bags contain plastic, even the ones that say they don’t since the glue is made of plastic as well.
7. Microwaves and plastics don’t mix:
Even if the container says that it is microwave-safe, it is not safe from plastic pollution. It simply means that the container won’t melt inside the microwave, but heating food in a plastic container releases plastic chemicals into the food. Use ceramics and glassware instead.
8. Dust and vacuum regularly:
Since microplastics are freely roaming around the air, you’ll benefit from vacuuming your house at least once per week, reducing the number of microplastics you inhale. Using quality air filters would also help.
9. Use public transportation:
About 28% of the microplastics found in water come from car tires. Tiny tire particles are let loose into the environment as they wear down with use. Using fewer cars and more public transport can reduce plastic pollution, and even reduce your carbon footprint.
10. Support policies that ban single-use plastic:
Vote for those candidates that are doing everything in their power to reduce plastic pollution. Support those organizations that are banning single-use plastics, and that promote recycling programs. Bring those into power, who care about the environment enough to do something about it.
Microplastics are, in the literal sense, everywhere. While it’s close to impossible to remove them completely from the environment, we can still do our part to at least reduce how much we add to it. Being mindful of our plastic consumption is the first step in reducing plastic pollution. Hopefully, our future generations would not end up inhaling plastic instead of oxygen.
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