• Todd Petrella

This Type Of Pollution Is Way Worse Than Plastic Pollution

By now, I think it is safe to say that we are all aware of the silent danger, or at least some aspect of it, that plastic poses to the environment. Last week, we touched briefly on a potential solution to plastic pollution (if you missed that, click this link to check it out), and I also mentioned another negative result of plastic waste. This result is responsible for killing over a million marine animals every year, leaking poisons into the ground, and even potentially poisoning us. This result is called microplastics.

Microplastic written on blocks surrounded by microplastics

For a thing with micro in its name, microplastics are an issue that is anything but. I have mentioned them before in other posts as well, but for this week, I want to dive a little deeper into that large, tiny world of plasticky fragments.

So, we already have normal plastics. How do microplastics come to be? Microplastics are the result of a chemical process known as photodegradation. Like biodegradation, photodegradation is the breaking down of something, but not by organic organisms. Photodegradation relies on UV rays from the sun to slowly degrade things. I have said this many times before (perhaps not on this blog, but enough times to my peers to sound like a broken record), but plastic does NOT break down cleanly, quickly, or efficiently. When plastic photodegrades, it breaks into smaller, and smaller, and smaller pieces. This allows them to evade filters and other waste management procedures, and slip into the oceans. And not only that, but as the plastic degrades, it also leaks dangerous and poisonous carcinogens and other chemicals into the environment. This process of photodegrading plastic is happening in landfills all over the world. It is easy to see why this makes microplastics a global issue.

An infographic from Phys.org detailing how photodegradation works
An infographic from Phys.org detailing how photodegradation works

2017 infographic from Henkel breaking down the sources of microplastic pollution
2017 infographic from Henkel breaking down the sources of MP pollution

Sorry, that was a rather long paragraph, but I think it is important to understand how MPs (microplastics) come to be if we want to prevent them. Knowing how they are created could be the key to a solution, but at this moment, we are still searching for one. While we search for a solution, what effects are MPs having on the environment? Or rather, how are MPs ravaging the ecosystem?

Since I did a long paragraph above detailing the creation of MPs, I think it would be a nice change of pace to leave a short video here, by the United Nations Environment Programme, to walk us through the effects of MPs:

It's crazy to think about how little we understand about MPs. The fact that they work their way up the food chain is actually a little scary, and it's hard to believe that they could potentially be in everything we eat and drink. Luckily though, like the video says, the research suggests that MPs do little harm, but this is still inconclusive.

Since MPs are potentially in all of our bodies, I would say that is a good enough reason to pay attention to them and be concerned about them. I did not know about Cleanseas.org before the video, but it is something I will be looking into in the future and hopefully I can use it to spur others to action too! You all should check it out, as well!

Also, in lieu of solutions, I would like to talk about some alternatives. Well, I do have one potential solution, the one I mentioned in the first paragraph above! An alternative that I like is hemp plastic, which I can elaborate on in another post, but to quickly summarize, hemp plastic is a bioplastic that is easily produced and sustainable. However, there are issues with its durability and cost, which is beat by normal plastic on both accounts. Therefore, hemp plastic does not have a good chance of replacing normal plastic, at least for now.

I think this is a good place to stop on this introduction to microplastics. Because this is a huge topic with a lot of ground and sub topics to cover, I am going to try something new and make a little series about MPs. Every few weeks, or maybe every other (still trying to figure out a schedule), I will post something about MPs. Hopefully, this will help you understand how vast and widespread this issue is. But not only that, maybe it will help spark an idea that ends up being the solution to plastic pollution as a whole. Too optimistic? Well hey, one can dream.

I hope you learned something from this post! Feel free to comment any thoughts, opinions, feedback, or suggestions. We love hearing from our readers! Don't forget to follow us on Instagram @up.cycle.design and Facebook: UP Cycle Design. And last, but not least, we'll see you back here on The Upcycled Thread!

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