10 Places Where You Could Find Microplastics

Microplastics are a reality of the plastic era in which we live. Have you ever thought –

“thank god for these plastic cups. no dishes today!”

Well, plastic may be the most convenient option in many instances in our daily lives. But it is not biodegradable and is becoming a massive problem in terms of the pollution it creates.

plastic waste next to recycle bin

Microplastics are a by-product of plastic manufacturing. They are tiny pieces of plastic no larger than one-fifth of an inch in size. Microplastics come in two types:

  • Primary microplastics: these microplastics were manufactured to be this size. They include plastic pellets, powders, and industrial scrubbers.
  • Secondary microplastics: these microplastics were manufactured initially as larger pieces such as plastic packets. As time passes, they break down into smaller pieces. Eventually, the pieces are so tiny that they qualify as microplastics.

Here are some more places you’ll run into microplastics. Be prepared for a few surprises!

1. Fish and shellfish

The sea is full of microplastics. Every year, an estimated  8.8 million tons of plastic including microplastics finds its way into the ocean. Microplastics are especially hazardous.

Fish and shellfish mistake them for food. At first, scientists discovered traces of microplastics in the guts of fish. However, it appears that these traces are also evident in the liver which means the fish’s body is trying to digest the microplastics.

plastic cup on the beach

At this stage, experts suggest that the risk of consuming microplastics outweighs the nutritional benefits of eating fish. The big question is how long that will last, considering that with each passing year more microplastics are present in the sea.

How long will it be before the risks outweigh the benefits if we don’t do something about reducing how many are in our oceans?

2. Toiletries and cosmetics

The next time you’re running through your cleanliness and beauty routine, be aware that you might be adding microplastics to the environment. As you rinse everything down the drain, the microplastics’ journey to the ocean begins.

Everyone makes use of toothpaste at least twice a day if they listened to their parents and teachers when they were small. When you stand in the supermarket and select your preferred toothpaste, take a careful look.

cosmetic products containing microplastics

Many manufacturers use microbeads which are meant to add to the cleaning power of the toothpaste. The microbeads consist of polyethylene plastic. When you rinse and spit, you expel most of the microplastics, but it’s possible some remain behind.

A lot of cleansers contain microbeads such as nylon and polypropylene . These are microplastics. The products are marketed as having exfoliation and youth-restoring properties. Microplastics are used in the manufacturing process to achieve this.

3. Clothing

That’s right, the clothes you’re wearing right now may contain microplastics. It turns out that over 60% of fabrics around the world include plastic. Polyester, acrylic, polyamide, and nylon fabrics all consist partly of plastic. So, your yoga pants, stretch jeans, button-down shirt, and polar fleece PJs are full of microplastics.

The microplastics in clothes are virtually invisible to the naked eye. However, every time you wash your clothes, they lose microplastics. The microplastics are in the threads of the clothes. The threads that your clothes shed during washing go straight down the drain. The microplastics join the drainage system after you’ve rinsed your clothes.

This water travels long distances until it reaches oceans or bodies of fresh water. The fish and other animals that live in the water consume the microplastics from your clothes.

4. Car tires, brake pads, and the roads they travel on

And here you were thinking the only damage your car does to the environment is its carbon emissions. It turns out that even electric and hybrid vehicles do their part to harm the environment.

cars on a road containing microplastics

When you walk around, you’re continually shedding skin cells. As your car travels, the tires drop tiny particles onto the road. So do your brake pads. The wear and tear on the street from all the vehicles moving across it can lift minuscule particles from the road surface itself. These particles are not made exclusively from plastic. They also contain rubber. However, they are classified as microplastics.

The particles are so tiny that the slightest breeze easily transports them. The wind can blow them into nearby waterways. They travel the waterways, eventually reaching the sea.

5. Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics are full of microplastics used in the production process. As they break down, they form even more secondary microplastics. Many authorities are starting to ban certain single-use plastics. Experts estimate that up to 50% of plastic products are used once before being thrown away.

Single-use plastics account for the most significant quantities of plastic reaching the ocean. They include plastic shopping bags, plastic water or soda bottles, straws, coffee stirrers, food packaging, and cotton buds (Q-tips). Single-use plastics may be convenient, but they are harmful to the environment. The argument against single plastics is that they are unnecessary in most cases.

single use plastic cups pollution

Consumers are encouraged to use alternatives to plastic such as glass bottles and paper or metal straws. Should every citizen across the world do this, the amount of plastic and microplastics in the seas would drastically reduce.

6. Cigarettes

We’re constantly bombarded with information about how bad smoking is for our bodies and the people around us. As it turns out, smoking is harmful to the environment in another way. It is also a part of the plastic crisis the world is experiencing.

While the war against plastics is waged against bottles and straws, cigarette butts are an even bigger problem. Over 60 million cigarette butts have been collected from beaches all around the world in the last 30 years or so. Few smokers know that the butt of a cigarette contains plastic. The cigarette filter includes cellulose acetate.

Statistics suggest that as many as two-thirds of the world’s cigarette butts aren’t disposed of safely. Manufacturers produce over five trillion cigarettes each year. If two-thirds of them aren’t responsibly destroyed, over three trillion are littering land and water across the world.

7. Tap water

Not only are the world’s oceans full of microplastics, but fresh water has also experienced contamination. Both bottled and tap water have been found to contain microplastics. People are ingesting microplastics by drinking water, the very substance that is meant to sustain life.

water dripping from the tap, also found to contain microplastics

Studies are ongoing, but early indications are that some microplastics enter the water through the air. Others are present in water sources owing to plastic pollution. Heavy rains can sweep microplastics lying on the ground into bodies of water. Rain can also cause microplastics in the air to enter the water system.

The statistics about the presence of microplastics in tap water and bottled water are perturbing.

8. Glitter

What would the world be without glitter? Less contaminated by microplastics, that’s for sure. With all the glitter used by children on school projects, festive decorations, and arts and crafts, it’s surprising we haven’t drowned in it yet.

And, as we all know, no exercise with glitter is complete without a spill of some kind. Glitter is hard to clean up. It gets in everywhere, and it’s impossible to get every last piece.

Teachers and parents know the only way to avoid a mess inside is to get kids to use glitter outside. But what happens then? Glitter blows in the wind and soon is traveling into the water systems and ending up in the ocean.

glitter on a child's face. another source for microplastic pollution

Glitter is made from plastic. It is manufactured as a primary microplastic since the pieces are so tiny. Glitter particles are attractive to hungry fish in search of food.

Glitter is becoming such a problem that there are calls for it to be banned.

9. Some of the foods you eat

Sea salt is ostensibly healthier than table salt. Sea salt is derived from the residue of evaporated sea water. Table salt comes from mined deposits of salt on land. Given the number of microplastics in the sea, it should come as no surprise that sea salt is full of them. Now there’s evidence that table salt is full of microplastics too.  

There has been considerable consternation among beer lovers since microplastics were detected in several brews. Sweet-toothed honeyeaters have experienced the same shock. How the microplastics got into these substances is not clear.

Scientists feel that more study is needed to make sure these are not isolated events. There is also a need to establish how the microplastics got there.

10. The air you breathe

There is growing evidence that microplastics are all around us in the air we breathe in and out. It is easy for the body to inhale microplastics as they are so tiny, they can be invisible to the naked eye.

As with any irritant inhaled into the body, airborne microplastics can cause respiratory problems and complications. The microplastics remain in the lung tissue, or they enter the bloodstream, accessing the rest of the body.

women taking a deep breath of air.

Scientists have found that there are more microplastics in indoor air than there are in outdoor air. The confines of a building trap all the microplastics in the air in one space. Outdoors, the microplastics disperse into a much bigger area. The microplastics inside our homes come from clothes and furniture.

Inhaled microplastics can lead to heart disease, cancer, and disorders of the immune and nervous systems.

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