News Updates for 2020:
- Microplastic Pollution is Worse Than Thought - Scientists were able to find concentrations 2.5 to 10 times higher using nets with a smaller mesh size
- An additional 99% of the 10 million tons of plastic waste entering the ocean appears to sink into drifts
- A new study finds that hundreds of thousands of tons of microplastics could be blowing ashore on the sea breeze every year.
By now most of us are aware of the presence of discarded plastic waste in the environment, with patches of garbage accumulating in our oceans. But did you know that microplastics and nanoplastics are a part of your local environment as well?
Let’s dig in to part 1 of our posts on microplastics...
What Are Microplastics?
Microplastics, which are defined as plastic particles less than five millimeters wide, can now be found in a wide variety of marine life, including those we eat. What’s worse, a significant portion of plastic pollution is from apparel and home textiles, with plastic fibers being released during production, use, washing, and disposal of petroleum-based fibers such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon. This is why we use only 100% natural and biodegradable fibers at Asterlark.
Because they are less expensive to produce, roughly two-thirds of all textiles are made with synthetic fibers. More recently, the high turnover and lessened lifespan of these low cost textiles due to the “fast fashion” trend, have only accelerated the associated production and waste.
Are Microplastics Being Ingested By Humans?
Because of their tiny size, these pieces of degraded plastic can be found everywhere on the planet, from beach sand, to city air, to farm soil, to ice at the poles. This ubiquity, coupled with accumulation, increases the potential impact to the ecosystems in our lives.
Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, half of which humans consume.
Exposure of these particles to freshwater organisms has been found to result in neurotoxicity, oxidative damage, decrease in fitness, and mortality. In a 2018 study of specific freshwater species, researchers found transgenerational effects, including decreased growth and reproduction rates.
Bottled Water and Beer??
It’s not just marine life, these microfibers have been found in packaged sea salt, beer, and bottled and tap water.
What About Bioplastics?
Although bioplastics are initially produced from sources that are biodegradable, such as wood pulp, cotton, and sugar, they only degrade via industrial composting, which most of us don’t have access to. Otherwise they simply breakdown into microplastics just as petroleum-based plastics do.
Bioplastics used to produce textiles still break down into microplastics.
What Can I Do?
When possible/feasible, try to follow the R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
- Reduce - Seek reasonable alternatives to plastic-based materials. This is very challenging as many products in our lives are derived from plastic. Although other materials can be produced/resourced in ways that are also harmful to our environment, consider wood, glass, recyclable metals, and silicon.
- Textiles - Specifically for textiles and apparel, consider sustainably sourced materials from plants and animals, such as flax linen, cotton, wool, and hemp.
- Reuse - Seek materials and product choices that you’ll be able to reuse, but that won’t be continually releasing microplastics in your local environment.
- Recycle - If there’s no other environmentally friendly options, then consider a recycled plastic product, particularly those that remove plastics from the existing environment (like fishing nets and ocean waste).