The term microplastic is self-explanatory. They are small pieces of plastic waste that are less than 5mm in size (0.2 inches). You can imagine how small. Most times, we might not even be able to see them clearly or identify them.
Microplastics, these days, are found almost everywhere. From plastic bags, clothing, cosmetics, and other everyday products. A lot of these products are thrown away as waste after usage and end up in landfills and oceans.
Microplastics are further divided into two types – primary and secondary.
Primary Microplastics are those that are found as microbeads in
- personal care products such as toothpastes,
- plastic fibres used in synthetic textiles such as nylon and polyester
- Plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing
They enter into the environment directly after usage. For example, after brushing your teeth, you wash off the toothpaste and it goes straight into drainage.
Fish nets are another example of primary microplastics.
Secondary microplastics are a result of breakdown of larger plastic items. For example, water bottles. These microplastics are formed mainly due to environmental factors such as ocean waves, sun’s radiation, weathering, etc.
To give you a picture, the chips packets that you throw away end up in drainages and eventually into oceans. They are one example of secondary microplastics.
Another prime secondary microplastics are straws and single-use plastics that are discarded after one use.
Forms/Types of Microplastics
Microplastics as a whole comprise different types. These different types are a result of disintegration of plastic waste in different conditions. Let’s have a look at each of these types and how you can easily identify them.
This type of microplastics mainly come from diapers, fleece clothes, and cigarette butts. One of the easiest ways fleece material gets into drains is through washing machines. They tend to clog sewage drains as they are not a biodegradable material.
Microbeads are another form of microplastics that are less than 1mm in size. As mentioned earlier, they are commonly found on tooth pastes. Also, microbeads are found in exfoliators, soaps, face washes, and so on. Because of their size, they can easily pass through treatment plants and enter the water bodies.
Did you know that one tube of toothpaste contains around 3,00,000 microbeads?
Styrofoam is popularly used in coffee cups, food containers, and packaging products. The chemicals used in the making of Styrofoam enter into our food, thereby affecting our health. One of the major ways they enter our body is when we reheat the food in these containers. They cause a major harm to the environment as they are not recyclable.
Nurdles are small plastic pellets that are used in manufacturing of plastic products. These pellets are melted and then used in making products such as lids. The major spilling of nurdles happens during transportation due to their size. These nurdles run off into water bodies with rain and drains where aquatic life can mistake them for food and ingest them.
Fragments mainly form when large pieces of plastic break off into smaller ones. Some of the common examples of fragments are lids, cutlery, and products made of single-use plastics. These fragments further divide into smaller pieces due to the sun’s UV rays.
Are Microplastics Harmful?
The more appropriate question would be, how harmful are microplastics. Micro or macro plastics, when left unattended in nature, are extremely harmful for land and aquatic life. As we know, plastics are not biodegradable, so are microplastics. Whatever the size, they do not break down into harmless components. Plastics take 100s or 1000s of years to decompose. During this period, they cause tremendous damage to the environment.
The only way to reduce the harmful effects of microplastics is to not use single-use plastics. Alongside, avoiding usage of above-mentioned products that have plastics in them. This might be a difficult thing to do as they are an important part of our daily routine. It is important to dispose of plastic products carefully after usage.