The growing spread of microplastics is alarming

Paul Myers MBA

Tiny particles are everywhere but invisible

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Image by Mikes-Photography from Pixabay

Tiny plastic particles are being found in food we eat, the air we breathe and even in the bottled water we drink.

It's no secret that microplastics can be found in almost every part of the planet – from remote Arctic snow, the Oceans and household dust.

Plastics are being found in the digestive tracts of mammals, including human beings.

In fact, studies have uncovered microplastics in bottle-fed babies. Yes, apparently infants consume millions of micro-particles every day.

What’s more, research undertaken at Trinity College in Dublin, indicates that the sterilisation process to clean bottles at high temperatures can trigger the release of micro polymer-particles.

Quite simply a stunning revelation.

We already knew that tiny plastic-particles were making their way into the food chain, but this groundbreaking research is astonishing.

Aqua-ecosystem

Environmental scientists estimate that there are in excess of 15 million tonnes of plastic-particles in our oceans.

15 million tons of microplastics pollute the seafloor.

As a fish-eating Sushi fanatic, I’m alarmed.

Moreover, the risks to the global aquatic ecosystem could be catastrophic.

Scientists have thus far learned that plastic-litter interferes with the reproductive cycle of marine life:

  • Stunt growth
  • Deplete numbers
  • Cause DNA damage
  • Increase pollutants in the food chain

The pathway to "Plastic Pollution" is illustrated below (Ritchie & Roser, 2018).

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Image retrieved from: Ourworldindata.org [Online Resource]

From the Ocean to our dinner table

The long term risks for humanity, by consistently ingesting microplastics, is not yet known. But research is shining a light on this topic ... an early warning sign for planet earth dwellers.

While the human body can dispel foreign particles, through excretion, the fact is that we do not know if polymers are absorbed into the bloodstream from our digestive system.

Indeed, we don’t know how plastic particles may interfere with other parts of the human body.

The fact that tiny plastic particles are evident in bottled water is mind-blowing. An entire industry must now take notice. An industry that's projected to be worth $334 Billion a year by 2023.

We need a lot more research into the presence of microplastics in the environment and the potential impact on humanity if we continue to buy and sell water in plastic bottles.

We also need better management and a deeper understanding of why and how microplastics enter the environment in the first place.

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The implications of recent studies prove that humans ingest micro-polymers every day. The exact quantity is unknown, but expected to be far greater than previously thought.

So what are microplastics?

Microplastics derive from a diverse range of materials, varying in type, such as:

  • Colour
  • Composition
  • Shape
  • Size

They tend to be no more than a few millimetres in length, or less.

Microplastics make their way into the environment from an array of sources, for example:

  • Through general waste
  • Surface drainage
  • Households – washing dishes and clothing
  • Manufacturing
  • General consumerism

Contributing human behaviours include:

  • The plastic baby-bottles or protein mixers that we put in the dishwasher
  • Or the piece of clothing purchased that's made from nylon or polyethene
All human behaviours feed into the never-ending cycle of plastic pollution.

All plastics are manufactured.

Fact!

They’re in everyday consumables, found in food packaging and cosmetics, eminating from larger pieces that fragment over time.

Here are some data-points to chew on:

  • In 1839, Eduard Simon discovered polystyrene
  • The first fully synthetic plastic was invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907
  • Plastics take 450 years to degrade in landfill
  • The world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste every year
  • This trajectory is on track to double by 2034 ... So over 750+ million tonnes
  • Only 9% has been recycled, currently less than 35 million tonnes a year
  • So 91% of plastic waste is unaccounted for

Take a moment to reflect on these facts.



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Final thoughts

Now that we know that we regularly ingest plastics, the primary concern is how much, how often, when and where.

The answer is ... we don't know!

The problem is that we can't isolate and eliminate the source of the problem because the naked eye cannot see these tiny particles.

Unless of course, we stop producing plastics.

Plastic is everywhere, found in:

  • Water bottles
  • Food wrappings
  • Coffee cups
  • Baby bottles
  • Clothing

The list is endless.

Actually, for busy families meal planning and preparation involves freezing ready-made meals in containers. Most containers sold to consumers today are produced using plastic materials.

Food preparation in plastic containers leads to greater exposure to microplastics.

Parents who use polypropylene bottles, which represent over 80 per cent of the global market for baby bottles, maybe unknowingly harming their children.

There is much more to learn about the hidden presence of plastic particles in the world around us, in the food chain.

The potential impact on humans and the environment proves one thing, we’re using way too much plastic.

What we know for certain is that human behaviour is one, maybe the only common denominator.

To date, there is no official government guidance anywhere in the world.

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Innovative Entrepreneurial thinker & Dreamer. I write about Leadership, Startups, Business, & Personal Growth. Connect with me here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-m-ecommerce/

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