Microplastics Saga

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Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) in the U.K. examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales and found micro plastics in them all.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny particles which are present in many sources, including carry bags and pet bottles. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the water bodies, posing a potential threat to aquatic life. Microbeads, a kind of microplastic, are used as exfoliates in some cleansers and toothpastes. Even though banned in US and Canada, microbeads are still used in India.

How does plastic get into water?

  • These microscopic fibers originate in everyday activities such as abrasion of clothes, upholstery, and carpets. About 60 per cent of all our clothes are made from polyester, a form of plastic derived from fossil fuel. Another kind of plastic, styrene butadiene is released from vehicular tyres, which lands into sewers and water bodies.

How harmful is it?

  • Micro plastics can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to lymph nodes and other bodily organs, shows the Orb report. Micro plastics have also been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals. So if plastic fibers are in your water, experts say they’re surely in your food.

Why do we need to act now?

  • If current pollution rates continue, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050, said the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Nearly eight million tonnes of plastic – bottles, packaging and other waste – are dumped into the ocean every year. This plastic waste is then killing marine life and entering the human food chain.
  • According to the UN Environment Programme, the global production of plastics has reached at over 300 million tonnes a year.
  • Micro plastics (particles of less than 5 mm) such as those used in scrubbers and cosmetics, ingested by marine animals can cause accumulation of certain chemicals and result in physiological impacts. Micro plastics can impair reproduction and development and alter how species function.
  • Like greenhouse gases, plastic is also not constrained by national boundaries, because it migrates via water and air currents and settles in benthic sediments.
  • Majority of ocean’s area is beyond national jurisdictions which resulted into “garbage patches” in oceanic gyres by the accumulation of plastic waste from different nations.
  • The health impact of the presence of polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and other chemicals in drinking water, food and even inhaled air may not yet be clear, but indisputably these are contaminants.

Way Forward:

Unlike POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Plastic pollution has received little attention in terms of international agreements. No single solution will stop marine plastic pollution.  Hence an internationally agreed and a legally binding instrument are required. As the European Union’s vision 2030 document on creating a circular plastic economy explains, the answer lies in changing the very nature of plastics, from cheap and disposable to durable, reusable and fully recyclable.Marine plastic pollution is a “planetary crisis,” and we should hope for a “Paris-style” global treaty aimed at tackling it.


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