Microplastics ~ The invisible threat to our environment and our health
Plastics have become an integral part of our daily lives, from the packaging of our food to the electronics we use. However, the widespread use and disposal of plastics have led to significant environmental problems. Plastic waste has been found in every corner of the planet, from the highest peaks to the deepest oceans, and its impact on the environment and human health is becoming increasingly apparent. We are no strangers to the confronting photos of turtles tangled in plastic or marine life that have consumed plastic, mistaking it for food. This pollution comes in various shapes and sizes, some as obvious as a plastic bag or bottle. The biggest threat to our oceans and environments though, comes in micro-form.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are less than five millimetres in size. Barely visible to the human eye. They are commonly found throughout the environment, even in the air. While many people might not think much about these tiny pieces of plastic, they can have a significant impact on the environment and on human health.
Why are microplastics a problem?
Microplastics are such a big problem due to the inability to biodegrade. Unlike natural fibres and products, microplastics can only break down into smaller and smaller pieces overtime, to the point they are almost invisible. Marine life and even wildlife can ingest these tiny particles without even realising, causing harm to their digestive systems.
Because microplastics are so small they can be extremely difficult to remove from the environment. So while efforts are made to remove larger pieces of plastic from our oceans and land, microplastics still remain.
What does fashion have to do with Microplastics?
Synthetic substitutes for naturally sourced fibres and textiles are major contributors to microplastic pollution in our ocean. Synthetic fibres (all of which are forms of plastic) now make up on average 60% of the clothes that we wear. When one piece of synthetic clothing is washed it can release up to 700,000 microfibres in our waterways. This is often referred to as ‘micro-shedding’. Once these tiny plastics end up in the ocean they are consumed by animals which becomes a problem effecting every aspect of the food chain, including humans. With fast fashion continuing to rise in popularity so too will the microplastics in our environment.
What can we do?
While it is near impossible to completely remove microplastics, there are things that we can do to reduce the amount of plastic we do use. While shopping sustainably and purchasing clothing made from natural fibres is crucial our efforts must extend beyond the fashion industry. Supporting policies to reduce microplastics can help make an impact on a much larger scale along with helping organisations like the Ocean Cleanup who work to remove larger pieces of plastic from our waterways and oceans.