Microplastics: small pieces of plastic, LARGE problem for water quality

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5 millimeters, or .2 inches, in diameter. These small pieces of plastic take thousands of years to breakdown, meaning they get broken into smaller pieces, they never “go away”. The threat they pose to human health remains uncertain, but what we know is that scientists have found them
throughout the water columns in our rivers, lakes and oceans throughout
the world.

Where did they come from?

According to a study in 2017, 9.1 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, and most of it has been placed in landfill or can be found natural spaces (Geyer et al., 2017). This preposterously high number comes into focus when considering an individual’s plastic consumption. Plastic is in nearly every part of daily life. It can be found in small pieces in toothpaste, single use water bottle that is paired with lunch to the fibers that help make up clothes. We interact with plastic so frequently it feels natural in our homes and routines. Our world has become addicted to the convenience that plastic allows, but it’s endangering our waterways. Every individual can choose to fight in this war on plastic through thoughtful and deliberate actions.

Check out the ideas for decreasing plastic in your home so that less microplastics end up in our waterways.

Are you going to wear that?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

USDA (2016) reported approximately 112,000 microplastics were found per square mile of water in the Great Lakes and 70.9% come from fibers and liners. Common fibers and liners that dispel microplastics include synthetic materials such as clothes made of nylon and polyester. A Plymouth University study found that 1 load of laundry, can release 700,000 microplastics (Napper and Thompson, 2016). Many of the microplastics that wash down the drain after a load of laundry are not caught in wastewater facilities and end up in waterways.

There are several easy ways that local residents limit microplastics from leaving their clothes. Consider doing less laundry and buy second hand clothing. This helps to save time and energy, while also cleaning up our waterways.

Start at Home

Today, it is hard to go a single hour without interacting with some form of plastic. Our food, shampoo and online purchases packaged in plastic. In a world that is swimming in the stuff, it can be hard to pick where to start in your plastic purge. A beginner’s tip is to go through your kitchen or bathroom and identify where you find plastic. Are there any alternatives? Some quick switches might be:

Interested in learning more? Check out the following resources:

  1. Geyer, R., Jambeck, J., Lavender-Law, K. (2017). Production, use, and fate of
    all plastics ever made. Science Advances Vol. 3, #7.
  2. Napper, I., Thompson, R. (2016). Release of synthetic microplastic plastic
    fibers from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing
    conditions. Marine Pollution Bulletin Vol. 112, Issue 1-2, Pages 39-45.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2016). Microplastics in
    Our Nation’s Waterways. https://owi.usgs.gov/vizlab/microplastics/

by Jacquelyn Buck

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