Microplastics: Invisible Particles, Visible Threats

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 5 mm in size. Microplastics are difficult to completely degrade in the natural environment. They persist and accumulate for a long time. These tiny particles have become an important part of global environmental pollution. The ubiquitous microplastics pose a potential threat to ecosystems and human health. Nowadays, how to effectively control the formation of microplastics has become a global problem.

Microplastics-Invisible Particles Visible Threats

Formation of Microplastics

Microbeads in Cosmetics
Microbeads in Cosmetics

Primary Microplastics

Primary microplastics are small, directly produced plastic particles designed for use in specific industrial and consumer products. They are usually disposable and discharged directly into the environment after use. Their main sources include:

  • Microbeads in Cosmetics&Care Products: These microbeads are often used in facial cleansers, toothpastes, and body scrubs to increase cleansing and exfoliation.
  • Synthetic Fibers in Clothes: This is the most hidden but most abundant microplastic. The washing of clothing involves the shedding of microplastic fibers. Many microplastic fibers, such as polyester, nylon, and spandex, remain in the environment after being shed.
  • Air-blasting in Industrial Cleaning : This process involves using microplastic “brushes” to blast industrial facilities such as machinery, engines, and ship hulls to remove rust, paint, and oil sludge.
Microplastics on Beach
Microplastics on Beach

Secondary Microplastics

Secondary microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are formed by the decomposition of larger plastic items in the environment. This decomposition process is mainly achieved through natural decomposition and the wear of plastic products:

  • Natural Decomposition: Long-term exposure of discarded plastics in the natural environment will cause photodegradation and weathering. They break into tiny fragments without changing their chemical properties. Most typically, discarded plastic bags and beverage bottles break into tiny particles on the beach and enter the marine environment.
  • Wear of Plastic Products: Plastic products used in daily life will gradually wear out during use, releasing tiny plastic particles. For example, car tires wear out due to friction with the road during driving, releasing tiny rubber and plastic particles. Similarly, ship coatings and fishing nets will also produce microplastics due to wear during use.

Microplastics’ Footprints

Microplastics have left their footprints in the ocean, land, and air. This global distribution shows that microplastics have become a serious problem.

Microplastic in Ocean

Ocean

The ocean is one of the most common habitats for microplastics. Microplastics have been widely detected in the world’s oceans due to the large amount of plastic waste entering the ocean. These microplastics may come from multiple sources. It includes waste discharge from coastal cities, pollution in rivers, floating garbage islands in the ocean, and accidental leaks during ship transportation.

Microplastics on Land

Land

Microplastics have also been found in the land environment, especially in urban and agricultural areas. After the weathering and physical decomposition of discarded plastic waste, microplastics particles are dispersed into the surrounding environment by wind. In addition, plastic films, fertilizers, and agricultural films used in agricultural activities may also release microplastics in the soil.

Microplastics in Atmosphere

Atmosphere

Recent studies have shown that microplastics can even be detected in the atmosphere. These microplastics may be caused by factors such as wear and tear of plastic products and urban pollution. The incineration of plastic waste is especially serious. Once in the atmosphere, microplastic particles can be spread to other areas by wind, even as far as remote areas and high mountain areas.

Microplastics Disrupt Ecosystem Stability

Microplastics Disrupt Ecosystem Stability-Animals

Animal

After animals ingest microplastics, microplastics may accumulate in their bodies, leading to blockage of the digestive tract and incorrect feeding signals. In addition, microplastics may also affect the reproductive function of animals, leading to an increased incidence of developmental deformities, which in turn affects the reproduction of populations and the stability of the entire ecosystem.

Microplastics Disrupt Ecosystem Stability-Plants

Plant

After microplastics affect the roots of plants, they reduce the plants’ ability to absorb water and nutrients. Thereby, it affects plants’ growth and development. In addition, microplastics may contain toxic substances, such as organic pollutants and heavy metals, which enter the plant body with microplastics and accumulate in plant tissues. In turn, this affects the ecosystem of the entire plant community.

Microplastics Disrupt Ecosystem Stability-Microorganisms

Microorganism

Microbial communities form biofilms on the surface of microplastics. As a result, various pathogens spread through horizontal gene transfer. However, microplastics can move quickly through waterways. As a result, these pathogens can transfer very quickly from their place of origin to another place where they may not naturally exist. This may increase the risk of pathogens spreading in different regions.

How to Control Microplastics

Reduce Disposable Plastic at Source

  • Implementation of Plastic Bans: Governments around the world are enacting plastic bans. This is to reduce the use of disposable plastic products. These policies call for reducing or eliminating the use of plastic bags, plastic straws and other disposable plastic products. In addition, the government also encourages companies to reduce the use and production of plastics, thereby promoting sustainable transformation.
  • Promotion of Alternative Materials: While reducing the use of plastic products, it is also crucial to promote degradable or renewable alternative materials. For example, pulp molding packaging and biodegradable plate are gradually replacing traditional plastic products. These materials are not only environmentally friendly, but also degrade quickly in the natural environment, reducing long-term environmental pollution.

Reduce Disposable Plastic at Source

Sustainable Production&Recycling of Plastic

  • Biodegradable Plastics Technology: This plastic is made from petroleum-based raw materials and bio-based raw materials. Microorganisms in the environment can completely decompose biodegradable plastics into harmless substances such as water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. The use of biodegradable plastics can avoid the generation of secondary microplastics, thus helping to alleviate the problem of microplastic pollution.
  • Plastic Pyrolysis Technology: This technology converts waste plastics into useful energy and resources. Using advanced pyrolysis equipment, waste plastics break down into pyrolysis oil, syngas, and carbon black. This technology solves the problem of plastic waste while achieving resource recycling. At present, plastic pyrolysis technology is constantly improving. It has become an important method for recycling waste plastics.

Taking Action Against Microplastics Issue

Microplastics, which are ubiquitous and difficult to degrade in the environment, have profoundly affected the Earth’s ecosystem. Their widespread distribution in the ocean, on land, and even in the atmosphere highlights the urgency of solving this global problem. To create a green future, let us actively participate in the use of eco-friendly degradable materials and plastic recycling. If you want to know more about plastic recycling, welcome to contact us!

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