All types of microplastics you should know

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Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. It has captured global attention, and for good reason. The detrimental impact of plastic waste on our oceans, ecosystems, and even human health cannot be overstated. While many of us are familiar with the visible plastic items that litter our environment, such as bottles and bags, there is a hidden, insidious form of plastic pollution that is equally concerning – microplastics.

1. What are microplastics?

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Chemicals Agency, microplastics are tiny plastic particles, typically measuring less than 5 millimeters (mm) in size. These minuscule plastic particles can take various forms, including fragments, fibers, beads, and foam, and they are found in the environment as a result of plastic pollution and the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic utensils... 

Microplastics have become a significant environmental concern due to their widespread presence in various ecosystems, including oceans, rivers, soil, and even the atmosphere.

2. Types of microplastics

 

Different types of microplastics

 

2.1. Primary microplastics

Primary microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are intentionally manufactured at a small size for specific purposes. These particles are not the result of larger plastic items breaking down but are designed to be small from the outset. Primary microplastics can be found in various consumer and industrial products and are released into the environment through their use or disposal. 
Here are some common examples of primary microplastics:

 

  • Microbeads: Microbeads are tiny plastic beads with a diameter typically less than 1mm. They have spherical plastic particles that are often used in personal care products such as exfoliating scrubs, toothpaste, and cosmetics. They are added to these products to provide texture and abrasion. When these products are washed down the drain, microbeads can end up in waterways and oceans, causing pollution and harm to aquatic life.
  • Microfibers: Microfibers are small fibers with a diameter typically less than 1 denier (a unit of measurement for the thinness of fibers) or about 10 micrometers (10 μm). For comparison, human hair is typically about 75 micrometers in diameter. Microfibers have exceptional smoothness and softness, which makes them widely used in many applications, including the production of clothing, household appliances, and cleaning products. In the fashion industry, microfibers are often used to create products such as sweaters, coats, and other high-end fabrics.

 

2.2. Secondary microplastics

Secondary microplastics are small plastic particles that result from the breakdown and fragmentation of larger plastic items, as opposed to primary microplastics, which are intentionally manufactured at a small size. 

Secondary microplastics are created due to various environmental factors, including sunlight, heat, and mechanical action, which cause larger plastic objects to deteriorate and break down into smaller pieces. These secondary microplastics can be found in various ecosystems and are often a major source of plastic pollution. 
Here are some common examples of secondary microplastics:

 

  • Fragmented plastics: This category includes small plastic fragments that result from the physical breakdown of larger plastic items like bottles, containers, and packaging materials. These small pieces can be created through a variety of ways, including natural wear due to time and environmental conditions, or through destructive processes such as wave action, sunlight, and exposure to chemicals. These fragments are carried by wind and water and can be ingested by marine and terrestrial animals, causing harm to both wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Microplastic pellets (nurdles): This plastic pellet is created from recycling used plastic and processed into small particles ranging in size from 1 to 5 mm. These microplastics are often used as input materials in the production of new plastic products. However, if not managed properly, they can fall into the environment and cause major environmental pollution problems.
  • Foamed microplastics: Certain plastic materials used in packaging and insulation are designed to be lightweight and foamy. Over time, these materials can break down into smaller foam particles, becoming secondary microplastics that can contaminate the environment.

3. Sources of microplastics

Some popular sources of microplastics

Microplastics come from various sources, and they can be released into the environment through several pathways. Some common sources of microplastics include:

  • Large plastic items: Such as bottles and bags, break down into smaller particles over time due to weathering, sunlight, and mechanical forces. 
  • Cosmetics and personal care products: Many cosmetics and personal care products, such as exfoliating scrubs and toothpaste, contain microbeads made of plastic. When these products are used and washed off, the microbeads enter wastewater systems and, eventually, natural water bodies.
  • Textiles: Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon shed tiny plastic fibers when washed.
  • Vehicle tires: Vehicle tires contain synthetic rubber, which wears down over time and releases microplastic particles into the air and onto roads. 
  • Paints and coatings: Marine paints and coatings used on ships and boats often contain microplastics. Over time, these coatings deteriorate, releasing microplastic particles into the water.
  • Plastic packaging: Plastic packaging materials, including films, wrappers, and containers, can degrade into microplastics, especially when exposed to sunlight and environmental stressors.
  • Agricultural plastics: Plastic mulches, films, and agricultural textiles used in farming can fragment into microplastics due to exposure to weather conditions and agricultural activities.

4. Impact of microplastics

Significantly impact of microplastics in water

Microplastics, despite their tiny size, wield a significant impact on our environment and the organisms that inhabit it. In marine ecosystems, where they are particularly prevalent, microplastics pose a substantial threat to aquatic life. Ingested by various marine species, from microscopic plankton to large whales, these minuscule plastic particles can cause physical damage, disrupt digestive systems, lead to malnutrition, and introduce harmful chemicals into the food chain. As a result, the very lifeblood of our oceans is under siege, with repercussions extending to human health as microplastics accumulate in seafood.

Beyond marine environments, microplastics have infiltrated terrestrial ecosystems, including soil. While the long-term consequences are still being studied, initial research suggests that these particles can alter soil health, microbial communities, and plant growth. Furthermore, microplastics have recently been detected in the air, raising concerns about their potential impact on human respiratory health. 

The cleanup efforts and measures required to mitigate this issue represent a substantial financial burden on communities and governments. The economic costs associated with microplastic pollution are not insignificant, straining industries such as tourism, fisheries, and waste management. This further underscores the far-reaching impact of microplastics on both the environment and our society. 

Read more: Microplastic: the unseen threat to our oceans and planet

5. Conclusion

Microplastics are a silent but pervasive form of plastic pollution that poses significant threats to our environment, wildlife, and ultimately, human well-being. Recognizing the various types of microplastics, their sources, and their impact is the first step toward addressing this critical issue. Mitigation efforts must focus on reducing the use of primary microplastics, minimizing plastic waste, and implementing effective waste management and recycling practices. The fight against microplastic pollution requires global collaboration and individual responsibility to protect the planet for future generations.

6. About EuroPlas

EuroPlas, with a team of experienced and professional staff, is committed to providing customers with high-quality products and services. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, we have earned a strong presence and reputation for delivering high-quality plastic materials and masterbatch solutions to meet the diverse needs of our clients. At the same time, we always put environmental protection and sustainable development first, therefore, we have continuously produced bioplastic products - Bio filler, ensuring both environmental friendliness and environmental friendliness. while increasing the efficiency of raw material costs. Get to know more at our website and contact us to be supported with the products that you need.

 
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