Microplastics- A potential threat to the modern world


Microplastics are basically small pieces of plastic which are generally less than 5 mm (0.2 inch) long and occurs in the environment due to plastic contamination. Microplastics can be found in a wide range of products, right from cosmetics to synthetic clothing to plastic bags and bottles and many more. Many of these products readily makes their entry into the environmental in wastes. What is more concerning are the microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very minute pieces of industrially developed plastics which are used as desquamate for health and beauty products, such as cleansers ,toothpastes, sprays etc. These tiny particles easily pass through the water filtration systems and ends up in the oceans and on the Great Lakes, endangering aquatic life and its habitat.

Microbeads are not a recent serious matter to look into. According to the United Nations Environment Program, plastic microbeads began to emerge from self-care products about 50 years ago, natural ingredients continued to get replaced with the plastics. As recently as 2012, the problem was still less sufficiently known, with a bounty of products containing plastic microbeads on the market and not much aware by the consumers.

As a emerging field of study, a very little could be known about microplastics and its effects yet. The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading efforts within NOAA to research this topic. Standard field methods are being used for collecting deposits, sand and surface water samples containing microplastics and carrying out the testing processes. Lastly, field and laboratory procedures will allow for a global comparison of the amount of microplastics released from the environment, which is considered as the first step in determining the final distribution, impacts, and providence of this waste.

Properties Of Microplastics

Microplastics consists of carbon and hydrogen atoms bound together by polymer chains. Other chemicals, such as phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), are commonly present in microplastics, and many of these chemical additives gets washed out of the plastic after entering into the environment.

Classification of Microplastics

Microplastics are classified into two types: primary and secondary.

Primary microplastics: Primary microplastics are small pieces of intentionally assembled plastic. They are often used for face cleansing and cosmetics, or for air-conditioning technology. In one of their reports, their medical use as drug vectors. Microplastic “scrubbers”, used to make hand purifier and face cosmetics, have replaced traditional natural ingredients, including ground almonds, oatmeal, and pumice. Major microplastics have also been developed for use in air breaking technology. This process involves the cracking of acrylic, melamine, or polyester microplastic scrubbers on machines, engines, and boats to remove rust and paint. As these scrubs are used over and over again until their size is reduced and cutting capacity gets exhausted. They are often contaminated with heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, and lead. Although many companies are committed to reduce the production of microbeads, there are still many bioplastic microbeads that also have a long damaged life cycle similar to ordinary plastic.

Secondary microplastics: Secondary plastics are small pieces of plastics produced from the reduction of large plastic debris at sea and on land. In the long run, a pinnacle of physical, biological, and chemphotodegradation, including photodegradation caused by sunlight, can reduce the integrity of the plastic waste structure to a size that remains invisible to the naked eye. This process of breaking down of the large plastic material into much smaller pieces is called as fragmentation. It is speculated that microplastics may continue to degrade into smaller sizes, although the smallest microplastic reported to be found at sea is currently 1.6 micrometres (6.3 × 10−5 in) in diameter.

Environmental and health impacts :

Microplastics are not biologically degradable. Therefore, once they are in environment, primary and secondary microplastics gather and sustains over a long time. Microplastics have been found in a variety of places, including the oceans and the freshwater environment. In the oceans alone, the annual pollution of plastics, from all types of plastics, is estimated at four to 14 million tons at the beginning of the 21st century. Microplastics is also a source of air pollution, which occurs in dust and particles with airborne particles. The health effects of inhalation for microplastics are unknown.

By 2018, in both marine and freshwater habitats, microplastics had been found in more than 114 species of water. Microplastics have been found embedded in digestive tract and in the tissues of various invertebrates, including crustaceans such as crabs. Fish and birds may sometimes ingest these microplastics floating over the surface of the water bodies considering it to be food. The introduction of microplastics can cause water species to eat less food and as a result have less energy to perform life functions, and can lead to nerve toxicity and reproduction. Microplastics is suspected of working its way up the chain of marine food chains, from zooplankton and small fish to large marine animals.

Microplastics have been found in drinking water, beer, and food products, including seafood and table salt. In a pilot study involving eight people from eight different countries, microplastics were obtained from the faecal samples of all participants. Scientists have also discovered microplastics in body tissues and organs. The effects of these findings on human life were uncertain.