This newsletter is a summary of a study done by Toxics Link, New Delhi on the widespread and persistent hazard of microplastics in our environment.
Download their Factsheet on the topic here.
Source: https://www.boogiefamily.com
Sometimes what is small and unseen is more of a danger than we realise. Especially when it is not biodegradable.

This is the case with micro and nano plastics, which when released into our marine ecosystems can cause havoc in the entire food chain. You might look around and wonder - where are the microplastics in my world? And be surprised to know that the cosmetics you use and the clothes you wear can also be sources of microplastic. And of course everything that you use that is plastic breaks down into smaller particles of plastic.

Did you know that plastic dust is created by the friction between the car wheels and the road and is blown away by the wind into waterways? Car tires shed 20gm of plastic dust every 100 km.
And so what?
These tiny particles of plastic degrade physically due to enzymes and microbes but never completely break down nor can be digested by marine life. When they enter the digestive tracts of marine life they cause blockages , damage the stomach lining and can starve the organism. They affect reproductive ability and can therefore impact the entire species.

Through bio accumulation, species higher up the food chain continue to carry the microplastics and the chemicals that these particles contain slowly release into the organism making them toxic to health.
Microplastic in Drinking Water
Photo by Sri Lanka on Unsplash
A tap water survey analysis conducted with water from 5 continents found microplastics in 83% of sample from across the continents. India ranks 3rd with 82.4% sample contaminated with microplastics.

And if you feel bottled water is cleaner than tap water...

An analysis of 259 bottled drinking wtaer from 11 brands found an average of 325  plastic particles for every liter of water being sold. In one bottle, concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per liter of water. Out of the 259 bottles only 17 were free of plastics according to the study.

What are we drinking in reality?
Cosmetics and microbeads
Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash
In recent times, several cosmetic companies have invented face washes which contain microbeads made of plastic. The scrub uses the abrasive properties of the microbeads to clean the skin.
Once a product containing microbeads is washed off a persons hands or face , the cleaning agents plus the microbeads are rinsed down the drain and enter waste water systems.
Most waste water is processed through a treatment plant, and the ability of the plant to capture these microbeads is limited. Beacuse of their small size and bouyancy, many microbeads escape capture and eventually reach rivers, lakes and the ocean where they persist.
Clothes release microfibres
Studies have shown that many synthetic fibers, such as polyester, nylon and acrylics, can be shed from clothing and persist in the environment. Each garment in a load of laundry can shed more than 1,900 fibers of microplastics, with fleeces releasing the highest percentage of fibers, over 170% more than other garments. Washing machine manufacturers have also reviewed research into whether washing machine filters can reduce the amount of microfiber fibers that need to be treated by water treatment facilities. These microfibers have been found to persist throughout the food chain from zooplankton to larger animals such as whales. The primary fiber that persist throughout the textile industry is polyester which is a cheap cotton alternative that can be easily manufactured.

However, these types of fibers contribute greatly to the persistence to microplastics in terrestrial, aerial, and marine ecosystems. The process of washing clothes causes garments to lose an average of over 100 fibers per liter of water.

Source: Wikipedia
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Soil pollution
Although the topic has not yet been studied extensively, microfibres and particles of plastic have also contaminated the soils across the planet. What happens to them when they reach here? Are the microbes and the fauna in the soil able to tackle the presence of these nano particles ? Does the behaviour of earthworms change when they encounter microplastics in the soil?
Earthworms, for example, make their burrows differently when microplastics are present in the soil, affecting the earthworm's fitness and the soil condition.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-02-land-based-pollution-microplastics-underestimated-threat.html#jCp
Earthworms, for example, make their burrows differently when microplastics are present in the soil, affecting the earthworm's fitness and the soil condition.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-02-land-based-pollution-microplastics-underestimated-threat.html#jCp
Earthworms, for example, make their burrows differently when microplastics are present in the soil, affecting the earthworm's fitness and the soil condition.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-02-land-based-pollution-microplastics-underestimated-threat.html#jCp
Credit: Anderson Abel de Souza Machado Source: https://phys.org
Health Impacts of Microplastics
Microplastics can enter our body through the air we breathe, through the water we drink and through the food we eat. Humans can be exposed to microplastics either directly through contaminated water and cosmetics or indirectly from seafood consumption. It can lead to bacterial infections in the gum, skin or injure the cornea by sticking in the eye. Microbeads in facial products can cause tiny skin rips and further infection. Suspended microplastics in the air can be directly inhaled and affect the lungs.

While research is still being done on the complete effects of microplastics in the human body, it is possible that when ingested they affect us both physically, and through the chemicals they release into our bodies. While the body may be able to eliminate some percentage of microplastics, the damage they do while in the alimentary canal is under study.

In lower animals, the ingestion of microplastics does a range of damage.
It can take at least 14 days for microplastics to pass through an animal (as compared to a normal digestion periods of 2 days), but enmeshment of the particles in animals' gills can prevent elimination entirely. When microplastic-laden animals are consumed by predators, the microplastics are then incorporated into the bodies of higher trophic-level feeders. For example, scientists have reported plastic accumulation in the stomachs of lantern fish which are small filter feeders and are the main prey for commercial fish like tuna and swordfish. Microplastics also absorb chemical pollutants that can be transferred into the organism's tissues. Small animals are at risk of reduced food intake due to false satiation and resulting starvation or other physical harm from the microplastics.

Source: Wikipedia
Laws around microplastics
Groups around the world are now campaigning for the banning of microbeads in various products. One such campaign is 'Beat the MicroBead'. As the pollution created by microplastics crosses international boundaries and affects us globally, the subject has also been taking up by the United Nations.
Countries are slowly taking cognizance of the severity of the issue. Illinois was the first state in the USA to ban microplastics in cosmetics. The USA also passed the Microbead Free Waters Act in 2015.
Japan , the United Kingdom and the European Union are all considering legislation to address the microplastics issue. Several countries have already committed to eliminating the production and sale of products containing microbeads.
Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbead
Sadly, microplastics are less studied in India despite the country being among the major plastic consumers and producer of 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Studies have found microplastics in Gujarat and the Chennai coast, Mumbai beaches and lakes in Kerala. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has acknowledged the microbead problem and declared them unsafe but a ban is yet to be implemented.
What can you do?
Here are some simple suggestions to help clean the planet of microplastics:
1. Avoid the purchase and use of any rinse off cosmetic products that contain plastic microbeads.
2. Try to gradually shift out of the use of synthetic materials in your choice of garments and turn to natural fibres such as cotton, hemp, linen and silk.
3. Avoid the use of glitter in cosmetics and at events and parties.
4. Carry drinking water in either glass or metal containers.
A tiny problem needing a massive solution
The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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