Photo by Florida Sea Grant
Microplastics? Well, this almost sounds boring right away, am I right? What if I told you that today you consumed about 200 tiny bits of plastic (1). That's right, you read that correctly. What if I also told you our beautiful oceans hold about 270,000 tons of plastic, 95% of which are microplastics (2). Interested now? We all know plastic is a problem, but what we are recently coming to understand is this large problem is even tinier than we thought. Let me explain.
What Are They?
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic, less than 5 mm (0.2 inch) in length, that occur in the environment as a consequence of plastic pollution (3). They come primarily from things such as cosmetics, plastic bags & plastic bottles. A large amount of them also come from our clothes; particularly clothes made with synthetic fibers such as polyester, rayon, acrylic & nylon.
Apparently there are two types of microplastics, primary & secondary. Primary microplastics typically enter the environment though various channels. One example of emission is through personal care products being washed into water systems - think micro beads from our face wash. Another would be abrasion during washing - think washing a favorite shirt that happens to be made from polyester. Secondary microplastics come from a breakdown of larger plastics - like that Starbucks Frappuccino cup from yesterday - from weathering abrasion through waves, wind and sun.
Why Are They A Problem?
These little suckers are not biodegradable, and each time we wash a garment made from synthetic materials, including recycled polyester, thousands of microscopic plastic fibres are released into the ecosystem threatening the entire food chain. When we use and discard the items, or wash our clothing made of synthetic fibers, these tiny particles can easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in our oceans and lakes. This poses the problems of pollution and potential threats to aquatic life, as well as our own.
"Microplastics are not biodegradable...this poses pollution and potential threats to aquatic life as well as our own."
What Can I Do About It?
According to Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola De Castro, sustainable consumption is not just about what we buy, but how we extend the life of what we have. “Over-washing our clothes is the number one reason that a wardrobe favourite might fade, shrink, or lose its shape.
TIP: Skip 1 in 6 washing loads, washing half of loads at below 30 degrees and substituting every sixth dryer usage with open air drying.
Being more intentional in the washing of your clothes is the largest measure you can personally take to decrease your emission of microplastics into our ecosystem.
TIP: Use Guppy Friend. A secure bag to wash your synthetic clothing to catch microfibers before they enter the ocean.
Of course reducing your use of plastic at all is always going to help. Saying no to plastic bags at grocery stores and bringing your own water bottle to fill up are simple ways to not even put plastic into the environment in the first place.
TIP: Use Net Market Bags at the store & markets instead of plastic bags.
I know these little pieces of plastic can seem overwhelming, but just like everything we can take small steps to make a brighter, more sustainable future by educating ourselves on them and making new habits that create less of them. I am so grateful we can do this together, friend.
Until next time,