“Microplastics will inhabit the known universe eventually. Including us.” – Anthony T. Hincks

One of the major pollutants that are frequently discovered in our oceans and the Great Lakes is the microplastics, which are the plastic particles smaller than 5 mm, invisible to the naked eye, causing the marine animals to easily ingest them, hence putting the aquatic ecosystem in great danger. Microplastics are commonly found in beads, pellets, film, foam, and fibers, just to name a few. They are everywhere from tropical waters to freshwater, to the air we breathe in, and even in the products that we eat or drink.

There are two kinds of microplastics. The first one, being primary microplastics, which are small and frequently found in personal hygiene products including face washes, toothpastes, and makeup products. Larger plastic objects like toys, bags, and beverage bottles produce secondary microplastics. It is an important fact that although plastics become brittle over time and break down into tiny pieces due to the sun, wind, and waves, unfortunately, they will never disappear.

There are many ways through which microplastics make their way into the atmosphere. As we all know, trash travels and so does microplastics. They get into beaches and the ocean floor. Microbeads, a plastic that is designed to be very small which are commonly found in toothpastes and face washes, get washed down the drain and end up in a wastewater treatment plant. Next, during the treatment process, this wastewater gets released into the marine or freshwater environment. Plastic pellets, a kind of microplastics, make their way into the aquatic ecosystem through a spill during shipping. Littered or dumped plastic items get moved by the wind and storms into the ocean ecosystem. There, they get exposed to winds, waves, and sunlight, which eventually breaks them into tiny pieces, creating microplastics.

Microplastics are bad news for the entire aquatic food chain and humans, too. Aquatic creatures like zooplankton, fish, and mussels, which are on the base of the aquatic food chain, mistake microplastics for food and hence consume them. When these get eaten by larger animals, the microplastics get passed into them. When humans consume some of these animals, then the microplastics enter the human body, too.

Research has shown that microplastics and chemicals in plastics negatively impact both animals and humans. In animals, they create issues with reproduction, development delay, and the ability to fight off diseases, while in humans, they tend to cause respiratory issues.

I live in California, where microplastics are found throughout the ecosystems and waterways. The first and foremost technique to solve this issue is to prevent marine debris at the source. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has worked with several partners to address marine debris through prevention, removal, research, response, and coordination since 2006. There are many things we, as responsible citizens, can do to help reduce microplastics from entering the environment. We should make an effort to avoid single-use disposable plastic products, avoid cosmetics with microbeads, choose reusable products, and get involved in local cleanups. Remember to recycle plastic bottles, cans, and electronics. Every single step counts!

Works Cited:


Mccoy, Neil. (2021, September 17). Microplastics. OR&R’s Marine Debris Program. https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/what-marine-debris/microplastics

Yale experts explain microplastics. Yale Sustainability. (2020, December 1). https://sustainability.yale.edu/explainers/yale-experts-explain-microplastics

Program, N. O. M. D. (n.d.). California: OR&R’s Marine Debris Program. NOS OR&R Marine Debris Program. https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/california

Microplastic Marine Debris Fact Sheet. (n.d.).