Microplastics: A Curse for the Human Civilization
Many of us have made it a habit to reheat our meals in plastic vessels every day. However, Ramesh, an environmental scientist, discontinued doing so after he and his team discovered that plastic food containers released a large number of small particulates which are known as microplastics, into warm water. They were taken aback. Microplastics are also ejected from heated blenders and plastic food containers. According to a team of researchers from the United States, if people brew infant food products by mixing them in warm water within a plastic bottle, their child may consume well over one million microplastic fragments per day. What does the ecological balance-sheet say about it?
Since their discovery, microplastics have been practically found everywhere - in the deepest waters, Arctic frost, and Polar glaciers, seafood, in common salt and pepper, cosmetic items, detergents, drinking water, and alcohol, as well as floating in the atmosphere, in the soil profile, and descending with precipitation over hillsides and towns, according to scientists. What's more alarming is that degrading these tiny fragments might potentially take many decades or longer.
So, what exactly are Microplastics, and how do they infiltrate the environment?
After a team of scientists discovered plastic debris smaller than 5 mm on English shores, Richard Thompson, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, created the term in 2004 to characterize them. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency, microplastics are bits of any sort of plastic that are fewer than 5 mm (0.20 in) in length. Beauty products, textiles, and industrial activities are just a few of the ways they get into ecological frameworks.
Microplastics are generally classified into two groups. Any plastic pieces or granules that are already 5.0 mm in size or smaller prior to infiltrating the ecosystem are considered primary microplastics. Microfiber cloths like fishing nets, microbeads in daily use products like toothpaste, and plastic pellets are examples.
Secondary microplastics are formed when bigger plastic goods degrade (start breaking down) in the ecosystem due to typical processes such as weathering. Water and soda bottles, plastic bags, microwave dishes, and tea bags are also generators of secondary microplastics. Both varieties are known to endure at significant concentrations in the environment notably in marine and aquatic habitats.
Microplastics are all around us, but are they dangerous?
For nearly two decades, scientists have been concerned about the possible ramifications of microplastics, while most investigations have centered on the threats to marine life. Microplastics have a high chance of consumption, absorption into, and retention in the bodies and cells of many creatures since plastics disintegrate slowly. Dangerous substances from the seawater and rainfall can biomagnified their way up the food chain. Microplastics have been shown to impair the vitality of agricultural soil and the weight of earthworms in grassland environments. The circulation and transportation of microplastics in the ecosystem remain unknown, however, research is now being conducted to learn more.
Microplastic particles are typically thought to be harmless or at the very least little detrimental to human health. Direct engagement with microplastic fragments, on the other hand, may have a negative impact on cells. PS particles were discovered to be potential immune stimulants, causing cytokine and chemokine synthesis in size and concentration-dependent pattern.
Some contaminants and toxic substances can bind to plastic surfaces and get absorbed. As a result, plastics in the environment can act as sponges, passively absorbing substances on their surfaces. These compounds have been demonstrated to move from eaten plastics to animal tissue, where they might become concentrated and make their way through the food chain.
Why reducing microplastics is the need of the hour?The urgent requirement is to halt the unprecedented rise in microplastics. Plastic has become so pervasive in our lives that it is now having a direct influence on human health. In the previous three to four decades, the production of plastic has outperformed practically all other materials. Plastics are becoming more widely used, causing a major threat to aquatic life and the ecosystem.
Microplastics can transport a variety of pollutants, including trace metals and some organic compounds that are highly toxic. Once in the bloodstream, these compounds can seep off the plastic layer, raising the risk of harmful effects. Microplastics have the capability to cause cancer due to their carcinogenic qualities. They can also be mutagenic, which means they can cause damage to DNA. Microplastics can induce a number of biological impacts when breathed or swallowed, including physical (particle) poisoning, which can contribute to oxidative damage, cytokine release, cellular destruction, proinflammatory, and immunological responses.
What steps can be taken by us to curb the use of microplastics?
As Howard Zinn suggests “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” It definitely creates a huge difference to consider how plastic is manufactured and what becomes of it once it is discarded. We must consider if we really need to use certain forms of plastic, such as disposable cutlery, and whether we may discard it in the most environment-friendly way possible. It's possible that you may carry the trash home with you so you can efficiently recycle it. There are also a number of treatment solutions that can help in the event of an outbreak of excessive microplastics.
Treatment options for polluted water and drinking water are quite effective at removing microplastics. Despite the limitations of the studies, they have been shown to eliminate over 90% of microplastics. Humans, on the other hand, may do so much to minimize microplastics. The biggest crucial step, however, is to change the manner people perceive and act.
Single-use plastic goods such as spoons and cups are found in abundant usage in today's lifestyle. Plastic cutlery is considered to be used only once for very few minutes on average, although it can persist hundreds of years in the surroundings. One of the most significant sources of plastic pollution is single-use plastic, which includes packaging materials.