Microplastics may be really tiny, but the problems they cause are no smaller than those caused by plastic bottles and bags. Microscopic particles come unlikely items such as our clothes – coming off in the wash – or body care items like face wash and toothpaste. They are also generated by the breakdown of plastic debris already polluting the waters. The problem with the minuscule microplastics is they accumulate in waterways – inevitably so, since they do not biodegrade. Once they get into the oceans, they stay there virtually forever.
According to the newest research by a team of scientists from the University of Hull and British Antarctic Survey, the levels of microplastic particles accumulating in the Antarctic are now much worse than expected. Up until recent history, the continent has been thought to be pristine, perhaps one of the last relatively untouched regions that has escaped plastic pollution. However, the levels of microplastics were found to be five times higher than one would expect to find from local sources.
The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment and they suggest that plastic coming from outside the region may be getting across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which was historically thought to be impenetrable.
“Our research highlights the urgent need for a coordinated effort to monitor and assess the levels of microplastics around the Antarctic continent and Southern Ocean,” said the lead author Dr Catherine Waller, an expert in ecology and marine biology at the University of Hull.
It is not yet fully known what effects microplastics may have on marine wildlife – but, judging from the infamous reputation of plastics in general, they can only be negative. Although not posing the risk of entanglement that is connected with bigger plastic items, microplastics can be swallowed very easily, at the same time making the current and already terrifying statistics of plastic ingestion by animals even worse.
Fortunately, we are not entirely helpless in the fight with microplastics – through our everyday choices, we can limit our negative influence on the environment, the same as with regular-sized plastic items. While buying products like toothpaste or shampoo, it is important to choose those that do not contain plastic particles. Products which help us limit the release of plastic fibers into waterways during washing are also a good upgrade in more conscious living.
To learn more about how you can reduce your plastic use overall, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign.
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