Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are created when larger plastics break up instead of down. These plastic particles can be as big as a grain of sand (or up to 5mm long) or so small that they can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Studies have shown that microplastics are harmful to the environment.
Marine life mistakenly eat microplastics in the oceans and consume unknown toxic pollutants attached to the microplastics. These toxins are then transferred when that organism is eaten and spreads further.
How do microplastics affect the environment?
Microplastics are created from packaging, found in cosmetics, and even released from plastic tea bags.
A 2019 study on plastic tea bags found that a single cup of tea released 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics when brewed at 95 °C. These microplastics were formed from the tea bags using nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a thermoplastic polymer resin which is commonly used in clothing and food containers, as well as in single-serving bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water.
The PET Resin Association (PETRA) claims that PET is fully recyclable and has a “very favorable sustainability profile in comparison to glass, aluminum, and other container materials”. However, PETRA fails to address microplastics at all on their website.
So, while PET can be recycled, Ecology Center says manufacturing PET resin generates “more toxic emissions … than manufacturing glass”.
PET microplastics have been found to have adverse effects on terrestrial snails. This study found that microplastics reduce food intake by almost an average of 33%. Damage to the villi in the gastrointestinal walls was also noted in 40% of snails, which can affect how many vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are absorbed by the body.
More studies are underway to examine the damage microplastics cause to the environment, organisms, and humans. The bad news is that it’s nearly impossible to clean up microplastics from the environment. That’s why it’s so important to reduce microplastic pollution and use sustainable, eco-friendly products instead.
National Geographic’s page on microplastics states that standard water treatment facilities struggle to remove all traces of microplastics.
11 ways to avoid creating microplastics at home
You can make essential, small, and more eco-friendly changes to the products you use at home to help reduce microplastic pollution.
- Avoid plastic-coated or EPI technology products.
- Swap single-use plastics for reusable products.
- Check whether a product is eco-friendly before purchasing.
- Only buy cosmetics with the Zero Plastic Inside logo.
- Drink tap water instead of bottled water.
- Buy clothes made from natural fibers like cotton and linen.
- Don’t use glitter (unless it’s biodegradable cellulose made from eucalyptus).
- Use flannels and cloths instead of wipes.
- Buy compostable products for tea bags and dog poop bags.
- Air dry your clothes.
- Do your research!