What are microplastics?
Microplastics are plastic fragments which are smaller than 5 mm. You can differ between primary and secondary microplastic sources.
Primary microplastics are plastic based granulates and pellets. These plastics are also named „microbeads“ and have originally been manufactured to be that size. Usually you can find them in cosmetics for face and body wash but they are also contained in peelings and toothpaste.
Plastic fragments which occur because of physical and chemical aging are called secondary microplastics. They are the consequence of the breakdown of larger pieces into smaller ones. Therefore they can have all kinds of shapes. This fragmentation is either caused by ultraviolet radiation or for example during the wearing and washing of clothes made out of microfibres. As plastics are not bio-degradable and will only become smaller and smaller secondary microplastics are the main source of microplastics floating in our oceans.
Why are microplastics dangerous?
The problem of microplastics is that because of their surface condition they can absorb different environmental pollutants which place themselves on the surface of the plastic fragments.
Over the years plastic becomes smaller and therefore its surface bigger. Consequently it can absorb more toxin. As these fragments are very small, fish mistake microplastics for plankton and eat them. Most of the plastic can be segregated but the toxic chemicals accumulate in the fish. As there already is a lot of marine debris floating in our oceans, fish partially starve with a stomach full of plastic because they are too small to segregate it. These chemicals are lipophilic what means that they bind to the fatty tissue of the animal. Fish like mackerels, salmon, halibuts and carps have a lot of fat tissue. The small fish is eaten by a bigger one which now contains more chemicals than the smaller one. This process is called bio-accumulation.
Humans are at the top of the food chain what leads to the conclusion that we consume more contaminated meat what can lead to chronic poisoning.
Additionally, microplastics are very small so they can get everywhere. Even in the deep ocean they have been found. Because of their minor size it is very difficult to get rid of them as they slip through the filters.
But at least we will have a lot of time to find the solution to this problem as plastic takes a while to degrade.
Author: Judith Seil
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