When we think of plastic waste, we see plastic bags, PET bottles and packaging materials in front of our inner eye. But there is a part of the plastic waste that we (almost) no longer see: microplastics. Microplastics are intentionally used in cosmetics, clothing and furniture, but it is also the plastic waste that breaks down into the smallest particles.
By microplastics we refer to the smallest plastic particles and fibers with a diameter of less than 5 millimeters. No matter whether they are ingredients of cosmetics or hygiene products or decomposing plastic waste: Microplastics are hardly degradable, accumulating successively in water, soil, animals and finally in the human body.
According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute, around 446,000 tons of plastic end up in the environment every year, three quarters of which is microplastic, of which one third is caused by the abrasion of tires.
No mountain too high, no ocean too deep: microplastics are everywhere!
Antarctica, Himalaya, Pacific - wild, untouched nature? Unfortunately not, because microplastics find their way anywhere, through ocean currents, winds and rainfall. Greenpeace analyzed seawater samples in the Antarctic in 2018, seven of eight samples were positive for microplastics.
A study by the University of Bern came to similarly alarming results in the same year: Throughout Switzerland, they found microplastics in the soil of remote meadows, nature reserves and high mountain regions. The plastic particles even penetrate to the deepest depths of our oceans: In 2014, researchers discovered a hitherto unknown type of flea cancer in the Mariana Trench - including plastic fibers in the intestines.
The animal, which lives at a depth of 6000 meters, was immediately named Eurythenes plasticus to draw attention to the widespread pollution caused by microplastics.
Spread over decades - a creeping pollution
Even though scientists were already able to identify the smallest plastic particles on the beach in the 1970s, the term "microplastic" was first defined in 2008 by the National Ocean Service (NOAA). Ten years later, in its study on plastics in the environment, the Fraunhofer Institute criticizes that a "problem-oriented sharpening of terms" is still lacking.
The problem only slowly found its way into the public consciousness, but in the meantime toxicological research is constantly bringing new results and findings on enrichment and distribution routes. Warnings about consumption and possible health hazards are becoming louder, and not only from the ranks of science and conservationists.
"Anthropogenic polymers in the environment": Different origins, one problem
The Fraunhofer Institute distinguishes two types of so-called "microscopic anthropogenic polymers in the environment", i.e. microplastics that are brought into the environment by humans. Primary microplastics are particles that have been added for specific purposes to cosmetic products or clothing to improve the properties of the respective products.
They make up only a small part of all microplastics. If they are released into the environment through disposal or use (for example, when washing clothes or rinsing toothpaste), they accumulate in soil and water and enter the food cycle. Secondary microplastics, formerly visible macroplastics, make up the vast majority of the pollution. They become smaller and smaller due to weathering and decay and finally take the same path into our environment.
The Fraunhofer Institute's investigation showed that the majority of secondary microplastics is caused by abrasion from tires and asphalt, followed by disposal processes and various emissions and drifts. In the end, no matter where from - the problem of microplastics is getting bigger every day!
How to avoid microplastics - we can do that!
Avoid garbage and especially plastic waste! Shop with your eyes open, think twice before you reach for products with plastic packaging. Often the better alternative with degradable packaging is not far away. So each of us can help to reduce secondary microplastics.
Separate your garbage! Make sure that plastic does not get into the organic waste garbage can, collect recyclables in the yellow garbage can.
Only a sustainable traffic and consumption turnaround can help to reduce the alarmingly high amount of microplastics via tire abrasion in the long run. Every single person can now do something about it and reduce both motorized individual- and delivery traffic. Use the bicycle and public transport and buy regional products!
Detect hidden microplastics! Microplastics can be found in chewing gum and cosmetic products, in hygiene products and in your coated pan, in detergents and cleaning agents. You can either decipher the ingredients, or use barcode-scanner apps to identify all the ingredients in detail and get an instant assessment of toxicity, palm oil and microplastics.
Switch to sustainable products! Often you have to search a little bit for alternatives, be it to replace your favorite makeup or your favorite clothing brand. But it is worth it!
When buying new furniture and furnishings, look for sustainable and certified brands, such as shelves and sofas from D3CO! Furniture, carpets and other interior design items are often made with hidden microplastics and treated with toxic chemicals. Make sure your new bed is low-emission the next time you buy it. Ask vendors to provide information on these topics before you buy.
Let's act together
It is important that we are aware of the problem and that we continue to inform ourselves and get involved in one of the large environmental organisations such as Greenpeace or the worldwide movement BreakFreeFromPlastic. You will also find regional initiatives that are happy about donations or cooperation.
Here at Biosofa, we're proud to produce only plastic-free and sustainable furniture! Eco-friendly to make sure we don't pollute or harm the environment, but also prevent harmful materials and toxic chemicals to pose a hazard for our own health in our homes.