Microplastics in Wastewater

We talk about the natural fibres and the man-made fibres, but do not take into account as much the water aspects of these fibres. As natural fibres come from plant and animal fibres, by definition, their contents come out of the earth and extract and use water in the midst of their production, whether cellulose or proteins composed of amino acids (of course).[i]

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But what about the possibility of problems with water in connection with the synthetic fibres? Take, for instance, the issue of microplastics in wastewater. Microplastics are part of the larger categorization of marine litter – gross – and can be defined “as particles of less than 5mm in size.”[ii],[iii],[iv],[v]

These small bits of plastics can tend to come in the form of pellets.[vi] However, the source of them are separate processes. According to GreenFacts, those are:

 

  1. deterioration of larger plastic fragments, cordage and films over time, with or without assistance from UVradiation, mechanical forces in the seas (e.g. wave action, grinding on high energy shorelines), or through biological activity (e.g. boring, shredding and grinding by marine organisms);
  2. direct release of micro particles (e.g. scrubs and abrasives in household and personal care products, shot-blasting ship hulls and industrial cleaning products respectively, grinding or milling waste) into waterways and via urban wastewater treatment;
  3. accidental loss of industrial raw materials (e.g. prefabricated plastics in the form of pellets or powders used to make plastic articles), during transport or trans- shipment, at sea or into surface waterways;
  4. discharge of macerated wastes, e.g.sewage sludge[vii]

The per annum increase in the consumption of plastics will not by necessity change overnight, but these can continue unabated in the, at least, near future because of the continued increase in the global consumption of plastics.[viii] That is, circa 2013, 299 million tons of plastic was produced, about 4 percent more than 2012, and collection and recycling of these materials does not suffice to keep up with the pace of these developments, even only a couple years ago, and these plastics complete their journey in landfills and oceans.[ix]

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There are about “10–20 million tons of plastic that end up in the oceans each year. A recent study conservatively estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing a total of 268,940 tons are currently floating in the world’s oceans.”[x]

This comes back to the industries of natural fibres, biodegradable, and synthetic or man-made fibres, non-biodegradable in the textile and other economic juggernauts.[xi] According to O’Connor’s report (2014), “In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing,” she continued, “It is not news that microplastic – which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines as plastic fragments 5mm or smaller – is ubiquitous in all five major ocean gyres. And numerous studies have shown that small organisms readily ingest microplastics, introducing toxic pollutants to the food chain.”[xii]

Many organisms eat these materials and thereby poison the food supply with pollutants. And it’s ubiquitous, that is, it’s everywhere and that means the global food supply chain is being completely filled with trillions of bits of plastic particulate matter less than 5mm small and finding its way into the food chain, which moves up into us.

National Geographic in Are Microplastics in Our Water Becoming a Macroproblem? (2015) provides a good overview of the subject matter at hand with the connection between the manufacture, distribution, and lack of recycling measures, and then the consumption by lower-end animals in the food chain and how this moves into our own food supply chain – bigger things eat on the smaller things.[xiii] It’s an issue for the environment and a major concern for us.

So are these  micro plastics accumulating in our bodies?

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We don’t know, but there is reason to believe that it is very much likely. And even if it doesnt accumulate in our bodies, do you want this in you? I think, and feel, as with many of you that I firmly do not.

[i] New World Encyclopedia. (2016). Natural Fiber. Retrieved from  New World Encyclopedia.[ii] GreenFacts. (2016). Marine Litter[iii] Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. (n.d.). Global Microplastics Initiative. Retrieved from Adventure science.[iv] United Nations Environment Programme. (2013). Microplastics. Retrieved from UNEP.[v] Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. (2016). Microplastics and microbeads. Retrieved from[vi] Ibid.[vii] Ibid.[viii] WorldWatch Institute. (2015, January 28). Global Plastic Production Rises, Recycling Lags. Retrieved from World Watch.[ix] Ibid.[x] Ibid.[xi] O’Connor, M.C. (2014, October 27). Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of. Retrieved from The Guardian. [xii] Ibid.[xiii] [National Geographic]. (2015, October27). Are Microplastics in Our Water Becoming a Macroproblem?. Retrieved from Nat Geo.[xiv] [gedwoods]. (2010, May 11). Polar fleece. Retrieved from Fabrics Int’l.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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