What are Microplastics? Plus, How to Avoid Them
Microplastics should be a growing concern for every citizen of planet earth. In addition to polluting the ocean and our natural environments, where they pose a threat for wildlife, microplastics are making their way into our food supply.
A brand new study suggests that people who regularly eat seafood may be ingesting up to 11,000 microparticles of plastic every year. While some of these microparticles pass through the body, a small percentage are actually absorbed into the body’s tissues and blood stream.
The effects of this phenomenon on a person’s bodily health are yet to be thoroughly studied, but based on what we know about the way that the chemicals in plastic affect our bodies, it’s a concerning situation.
What Exactly Are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic material that measure less than 5 millimeters. They come from four main sources: Plastic objects, single use plastic packaging, microbeads found in household cleaning products and beauty products, and from synthetic clothing.
When larger plastic items make their way into the ocean, they are eventually broken down by the sun, the motion of the waves, and natural fragmentation. Tiny threads from our synthetic clothing make their way from our clothes washers into waste water systems, and eventually into the ocean. Microbeads from facial scrubs, toilet cleaners, and similar products are flushed into our water system as well.
Marine animals often mistake plastic particles for food, ingesting them. If the plastics don’t kill the animal, they are general absorbed into their flesh and tissues.
What Can We Do About Microplastics?
We can all take small actions to attempt to stem the flow of plastics into our water and food sources.
Don’t use cleaners or personal care products with plastic microbeads or abrasives.
Opt instead for products with natural abrasive ingredients, or make your own scrubs and cleaners. Coffee grounds, oats, and ground almonds are great for skincare products, and pumice or ground eggshells are great for cleaning applications. You can also replace abrasive products with a exfoliating loofa for skin or a stiff natural fiber brush for cleaning.
Add more natural fabrics to your wardrobe.
Fabrics that are 100% cotton, linen, hemp, wool, or other natural fibers won’t contribute to the proliferation of microplastic fibers in nature because these fibers will biodegrade.
Of course, you probably have synthetic items in your closet, and it’s difficult to purchase items like activewear and swimwear without accumulating synthetic fabrics. For those unavoidable fabrics, consider getting a Guppyfriend, an innovative laundry bag that will capture nearly all of the microplastic fibers that your clothing sheds during a washing cycle!
Avoid single-use plastic.
Easier said than done, but important nonetheless! It’s becoming clear that even recycling isn’t the answer to our planet’s mounting plastic crisis (and less than 9% of plastics really get recycled, anyway…). Wherever possible it’s important to refuse single use plastic.
Start with Stasher! Get your first bag or expand your collection and slowly rid your kitchen of plastic baggies and containers. Because Stasher bags are endlessly reusable, you'll save thousands of those disposables from reaching landfills and oceans.
Get into the habit of asking for no straws in your drinks at restaurants, bringing your own reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottle/ coffee mug, and using reusable containers whenever possible.
Buying in bulk is another way to cut down on your plastic packaging consumption, if you live near a grocery store or co-op with a bulk section. Bring a few Stasher bags, write the tare weight on your bag with a dry erase marker, and fill them up with spices, nuts, and other dry goods.
Pick up litter that you find outdoors.
While it’s not a fail proof way to ensure that plastic doesn’t end up traveling to and disintegrating in the ocean, it’s a good idea to pick up trash that you find out of doors or on the beach, just to lessen the chances that those pieces of trash ending up floating around the sea indefinitely. Try a 5 minute beach cleanup, or spend a few minutes picking up trash along your street or at a local park. Make sure that the items are placed in an appropriate recycling bin or landfill-bound min.