Invisible ‘Microplastics’ Becoming Major Ocean Pollutant

2017-03-14T13:33:34+00:00 March 14, 2017|
A new study analyzed plastic pollution in the ocean to identify it's source.  (Credit: Sea Education Association)

(Click to enlarge) A new study analyzed plastic pollution in the ocean to identify it’s source.
(Credit: Sea Education Association)

The world’s biggest environmental network is calling for a global ban on microscopic plastics that it says are quietly harming the world’s oceans.

(From Bloomberg BNA / By Wachira Kigotho)– The International Union for Conservation of Nature says that unlike larger plastic wastes that are well known as ocean pollutants, microplastics are not visible.

“But their release into oceans has far-reaching consequences as they have potential to enter the food chain,” said Julien Boucher, the lead author of the group’s Feb. 23 report.

Microplastics are small plastic particulates that are usually less than 5 millimeters wide and are classified as primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics originate mainly from scrubbing agents in toiletries, cosmetics, particles from the erosion of tires and abrasion of synthetic textiles. Secondary microplastics are caused by the degradation of larger plastic items into smaller plastic fragments once exposed to the marine environment.

Several countries in recent years—including the U.S.—have banned microbeads from cosmetics and personal-care products such as toothpaste. The international organization backs a United Nations Environment Program proposal requiring a systemic approach and entering into a dialogue with all stakeholders, from product design to urban infrastructure planning.

“Technologies are readily available and the challenge is more a political and financial one,” said Inger Andersen, the group’s director general.

About 1.5 million tons of microplastics pollute the oceans each year, the organization said.

“The main pathways of these plastics into the ocean are through road runoff (66 percent), wastewater treatment systems (25 percent) and wind transfer (7 percent),” according to the report.

Most microplastics are generated through unintentional losses through abrasion, weathering, spills during production, transport, use, maintenance or recycling of products. “Taking into account that most microplastics originate from losses of product use and maintenance, the problem should be tackled with a global producer-consumer perspective,” said Damien Friot, co-author of the study.

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