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  • Writer's pictureHemp Revolution

Plastic Pollution and Oceans, When a Big Problem is Small.

Image of microplastic particles taken under an Electron Microscope.
Microplastic particles under an Electron Microscope

Everyone knows that the oceans are becoming more and more choked up with plastic pollution every day. It is unsightly, causes damage to the ecosystem and it's wildlife. But few people are aware of one of the most looming dangers of plastic pollution, the existence of Microplastics.

What are they?

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that have been broken apart from larger pieces of weathered plastic; the term includes microbeads from facial cleansers, and fibers from synthetic fabrics. Essentially, plastics never disappear They simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces that maintain the same structure and chemistry as the original item. This is what is meant when it says plastics DECOMPOSE and not BIO-DEGRADE.

Microplastics enter the environment in several ways, one of the most common being from laundry.
Graphic showing MP enter the environment from laundry

Where do they come from?

Microplastics enter the environment in several ways. No matter the method, they are essentially created when smaller pieces of plastics break off from larger pieces. Here are some common methods :

  • Plastic waste which is found in the environment, particularly the oceans, is subject to tidal and other forces which slowly grind it down into smaller and smaller pieces.

  • Clothing and other linens made from synthetic fibers (such as nylon and rayon) will shed these particles when laundered and agitated. Since these artificial fibers are essentially made from plastics, their decomposition results in the creation of microplastics. These particles then enter the wastewater stream, where modern filtration equipment cannot filter them. Therefore, they wind up being discharged into the environment and working their way into the groundwater.

  • Microbeads. Perhaps you have heard advertising before about products containing microbeads," which are microscopic pieces of polyethylene that are meant to improve the exfoliant or other properties of many skin, hair care products and cleaning products. As they are washed down the drain, these beads quickly become microplastics in the wastewater stream. Fortunately, a law signed by Pres. Obama in 2015 (the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015) forbade their use.

These are three of the most common ways to create microplastics.

Hundreds or even thousands of these particles can fit on the face of a Penny
Plastic particles as compared to a Penny

A few disturbing facts!

Microplastics are amongst the least studied of environmental issues in modern environmental science. There are a number of indicators, however, that more attention should be brought to bear, sooner, on this issue.

  • A study, published in 2018, found Microplastic contamination 90% of Table Salt brands.

  • Another 2018 study, found microplastics present in over 90% of branded water bottles.

  • Studies have shown that the beaches of Northern Cypress contain possibly the highest concentrations of microplastic contamination of any beaches studied. These beaches are some of the most important nesting locations of Marine Sea Turtles.

  • National Geographic chronicled a study which showed microplastics present in HUMAN FECES for the first time ever!

  • A 2017 Study determined that nearly 99% of plastic introduced into the oceans has degraded to become microplastics.

A microscopic view of a Zooplankton with Microplastic Particles in it's digestive system.