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Microplastics: A Little Bit of Plastic in All of Us

Source: National Geographic Society

Plastic, plastic, plastic.

We’ve been killing the ocean for a while now, but as usual, no one cares. Not until it starts to directly affect them of course. Over a 100 million marine animals are killed each year by plastic waste, and we are the perpetrators. Plastic is not a natural cause of death, but a man-made one.

Humans, who slave to complacency, typically aren’t willing to put in the effort to change their lifestyle, their consumption patterns and to make their life more difficult for another species. Far too often are we tricked and enamored by the path of least resistance, the path of plastic containers, plastic bags and plastic starbucks cups. Now that our habits have finally caught up to us, it’s our heads on the chopping block. A 100 million heads before us, will we be next? What is this next possible threat to our existence, and how can we prevent it? Can we still save ourselves?

Introducing microplastics

Source: The Guardian

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles from the environment that result from the breakdown of larger plastics of consumer products or industrial waste. Most of the huge amounts of plastic waste we dump into the ocean end up becoming microplastic. Scientists have found microplastics everywhere they’ve looked, in the deep oceans, in Arctic snow, in rain, in table salt and in beer.

In March 2022, microplastics were found in human blood for the first time. This means that these tiny, possibly toxic particles can travel in the bloodstream and can lodge in some of our organs.

In April 2022, microplastics were, again for the first time, found lodged deep in the lungs of people, in the tissues of 11 out of 13 patients who had undergone lung surgery. The tiny particles were found in almost all the samples analyzed.

Source: Live Love Fruit

How can microplastics get in our body?

There exist many ways microplastics can enter our bodies that are not solely limited to the ones mentioned in this article. Feel free to conduct further research on the sources of microplastics to find out more.

There are two types of microplastics, which are primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are tiny particles designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics like in toothpastes and exfoliants, and microfiber shed from clothing and furnishing. Microplastics are significantly present in the dust around us. These microplastics can enter our body when we inhale them.

60% of all clothing materials are made up from synthetic plastic fibers like polyester, nylon and acrylic. These fabrics are popular because they are affordable, versatile and durable but unfortunately, each item made from these items can release hundreds of thousands of microplastics per wash. It’s been found that in a single wash, acrylic releases almost 730,000 synthetic particles. A large proportion of these microplastics will be caught by the sewage treatment works, but the small proportion through can and will accumulate, some of this reaching the oceans.

Source: TVS

Secondary microplastics refer to tiny particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items like plastic bags and water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors like radiation from the sun and ocean waves. These tiny microplastics can be and are consumed by marine organisms from plankton to whales. To make matters worse, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine creatures, soaking up other toxins in the water like a sponge. If fishes consume microplastics in the ocean, and we eat those fish, the microplastics can enter our body and our bloodstream, just one simplified example of how microplastic can move up the food chain.

Source: Plant Based News

Microplastics have been found in the blood of cows and pigs, which to me isn’t very surprising considering when feeding livestock expired spoiled human food products which are deemed safe for them to consume, feed producers often ignore the requirement in practice and regulatory authorities inefficiently regulate it. When food wrapped in plastic wrappings are thrown into the grinder and turned into animal feed, it eventually makes its way into the flesh of the animals we consume, another example of how microplastics can move up the food chain.

We actually eat microplastics everyday. Studies show that it is estimated that we could be ingesting 5 grams of plastic each week, which is about the weight of a credit card. Microplastics are present in our food, in edible fruits and vegetables, as well as in our drinking water, bottled or tap, as standard water treatment facilities are unable to remove all traces of microplastics. Studies also show that the average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic per year and breathes in a similar amount, though the true amount is likely to be much higher as only the small quantity of foods and drinks were analyzed for plastic contamination.

So, how does it feel to know you have microplastic in your body? How does it feel to know that your children will have microplastics in their body, and their children? You might be wondering, does it matter if there are microplastics? Is it harmful?

Source: WECT

Harms of microplastics

According to the World Economic Forum, microplastics can carry a range of contaminants such as trace metals and some potentially harmful organic chemicals which can leach from the plastic surface once they’re in our bodies and increase the potential of toxic effects. Microplastics can contain mutagenic and carcinogenic properties, which means they can potentially damage our DNA and cause cancer.

A study found that at levels known to be eaten by people through food, microplastics can damage the human cells in the lab. The harms included cell death, allergic reactions and damage to cell walls. According to Evangelos Danopoulos, who led the research published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, “Harmful effects on cells are in many cases the initiating event for health effects. We should be concerned.”

However, as a recent emerging field of study, it is important to note that at the time this article is published, not a lot is known about the true impact of microplastics on human health.

Source: The ASEAN Post

How to reduce exposure to microplastics

  1. Don’t microwave food in plastic, including plastic containers or frozen meals that get microwaved right in the package. When heated, the harmful chemicals added to plastic leach a lot more easily.
  2. Stop drinking bottled water, which has roughly double the amount of microplastics than tap water, and drink filtered tap water instead.
  3. Regularly dust and vacuum. Vacuuming floors at least once a week was associated with less microplastics present in dust compared to those that were cleaned less frequently.
  4. Reduce and restrict seafood consumption.
  5. Use cosmetics and beauty products that are free of plastics or microbeads
  6. Steer clear of clothing made of synthetic fibers and opt for natural materials like wool instead. Generally consuming less clothing would be an even better help.
  7. If you can afford to, install a fiber-catching filter in your laundry or use a microfiber laundry bag to reduce microplastics washing out of your clothes.
  8. Wash your clothes by hand and air-dry your clothes.
  9. Choose non-carpeted floors which are likely to have fewer microplastics, such as wooden floors, instead of carpeted floors
Source: Eco Warrior Princess

Ways to reduce microplastics and plastic pollution

  1. Reduce using single-use plastics. Reduce using items that are meant to be used just once and then discarded like plastic cups for your coffee and boba, plastic cutleries and food packaging. They are the primary cause of secondary plastics in the environment which contribute to the rise in microplastics.
  2. Recycle properly and purchase second-hand items.
  3. Support organizations addressing the plastic population. Donating to them or even spreading the word can make a big difference!
  4. Support legislation that restricts plastic production and waste. We need legislation that limits plastic production, improves waste management, and holds plastic producers accountable for the waste they create. Internationally, hundreds of organizations and businesses are calling on the United Nations to enact a global plastics treaty that would set global rules and regulations to reduce plastic pollution.
Source: EcoWatch

This is your wake-up call to seriously reduce your plastic consumption, if not for the animals then for yourself. Our environmentally harmful habits are finally catching up to us and just like how it has treated the hundreds of millions of animals it has killed, it will not be kind.

Reduce microplastics for you, your children and your grandchildren. Reduce microplastics for the animals and the environment. Before having speckles of plastic in our fish, meat, fruits and water become a normal part of our daily routine, let’s reduce the amount of microplastic that enters our bodies and our oceans. Before our species suffers from the unknown potentially harmful effects of microplastics on our bodies, let’s take action to reduce our bodies’ exposure to microplastics now. In order to save our planet, our future and to protect ourselves, let’s stop microplastics.

[Written by: Ruby. Edited by: Suhana Kabeer.]



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TLMUN Herald

TLMUN Herald

A not-for-profit publication under the Taylor’s Lakeside Model United Nations Club which focuses on amplifying the voices of the youth of today.