What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5mm (0.2 in) long. They have been found everywhere! They are found in our oceans, our rivers, our air, but also our food, bottled water, and tap water. Due to their small size, they are easy to digest and are now the subject of a health review by the World Health Organisation.
Microplastics end up in our ocean, are eaten by marine life, which in turn are eaten by humans or larger animals. They have been found in over 94% of tap water in the USA and 72% in Europe, as well as in 93% of bottled water around the world.
Where do microplastics come from?
Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris which degrade into ever smaller pieces of plastic. The omnipresence of plastic in our modern society is generating thousands of tons of microplastics annually according to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
Every time your car tires or your shoe wear off; when you wash your cloth or exfoliate your body – you are generating microplastics, microfibers, and microbeads.
What are microfibers?
The textile industry is one of the largest producers of a specific type of microplastics. Most of our clothes contain fibers, which are made out of plastic. Regular wear and tear, of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylics produce what are called microfibers. Everyday washing of clothes produce microfibers which then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes, and oceans. Dryers are also responsible for a large amount of the microfibers, which are ejected into the air, and once again, end up in our lakes, rivers, and subsequently, our tap water.
What are microbeads?
Microbeads are little bits of plastic of less than 1mm large, which are used in the cosmetic industry. They are mostly found in exfoliating products such as face wash, or toothpaste. Unlike other microplastics, microbeads are intentionally manufactured to be small bits of plastic. Recent studies on the high level of microplastics in fish have raised awareness and more and more countries are banning microbeads, including the US with the Microbead-Free Waters Act 2015.
6 Tips to limit your microplastics intake and impact
Now that we understand what are microplastics, and what are microbeads, and what are microfibers, we can start to reduce our consumption and our impact.
1 – Buy a water filter, and stop using bottled water. Most carbon block filters with a micron rating of 2 or less will remove microplastics. EcoPro is an example of a water filter using coconut shell carbon block technology – and it uses recyclable refills.
2 – Buy non-synthetic eco-friendly clothes. Brands like SLOactive are creating ocean-friendly swimwear and wetsuits while cleaning out oceans. Aizome Bedding are producing zero-waste, all cotton bedding with natural indigo-dyeing.
3 – Get a laundry ball. Catch microfibers shedding off our clothes in the washer. The Cora Ball is inspired by the way coral filters the ocean and collects your microfibers into fuzz you can see, so you can dispose of microfibers in the right way.
4 – Air dry, don’t use the dryer.
5 – Use public transport, and favor rail infrastructure.
6 – Reduce your meat and fish consumption. You don’t have to go full Vegan, but consider a more flexitarian approach.