We live in a plasticised world. Plastic is in our electronics, clothes, packaging, drinks, food, cosmetics and cleaning products. And the list goes on. This brings us to the issue of micro-plastics which are seemingly everywhere. But you can take some actions to reduce your exposure and minimise your micro-plastic pollution on our planet.
What is micro-plastic?
Micro-plastics are tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter. Some micro-plastics are large enough to see, while others are small enough to breathe. Some micro-plastics have been made small intentionally. Many products have intentionally added micro-plastics, such as cosmetics, detergents, paints, medicines, nappies, and pesticides. Other micro-plastics have formed by breaking away from larger plastics that have fragmented. Plastic specks shear off from car tyres on roads, and synthetic microfibres shed from clothing, for instance.
Over time, these tiny particles end up flooding our environment. Researchers have been worried about the potential harm of micro-plastics for almost 20 years. Scientists have found micro-plastics everywhere: in deep oceans, in Arctic snow and Antarctic ice, in shellfish, table salt, and drinking water, drifting in the air or falling with rain over mountains and cities. And even in humans.
Why are micro-plastics problematic?
While the impact of ingesting plastics on human health is not yet fully understood, some research suggests it could be harmful. For example, studies show that chemicals added during the production of plastics can disrupt the endocrine system and the hormones that regulate our growth and development. In addition, chemicals found in plastic have been linked to a range of other health problems, including cancer, heart disease and poor foetal development. High levels of ingested micro-plastics may also cause cell damage which could lead to inflammation and allergic reactions, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of Hull in the UK.
10 ways to reduce micro-plastic consumption and pollution in your daily life
Unfortunately, we can't avoid micro-plastics; however, we can take action to reduce our exposure to them.
1. Avoid single-use plastic.
Each plastic item eventually breaks down, producing micro-plastics. The best thing for ourselves and the environment is to avoid those we use for only 20 minutes and discard them. Single-use plastic is commonly used for packaging food and drinks and, as such, seeps into our food which we then eat. Avoid single-use plastic as much as possible by bringing fabric bags while shopping, asking for paper instead of plastic bags, buying food in glass jars or cans, and shopping at zero-waste grocery stores.
2. Buy clothes made from organic materials.
Synthetic clothing, such as polyester, is a massive contributor to micro-plastics. Therefore, choose eco-friendlier clothing made from organic materials, such as cotton, silk, wool, hemp and other natural fibres, when possible.
3. Be mindful of how you do laundry.
Clothing gets extra wear and tear when going through the washer and dryer. Washers and dryers generate microfibres from all types of materials, but the micro-plastics from polyester and other synthetic materials are the most concerning. Dryers generate about 40 times more microfibres than washing machines, with a single household dryer releasing up to 120 million microfibres into the air every year. You can help reduce the amount of micro-plastics released by your washer and dryer by ensuring you have quality filters that catch micro-plastics and air-drying your clothing.
4. Don't microwave or heat your food in plastic.
Plastic and heat don't mix. Plastic containers leach plastics when they're heated. This holds even when plastic containers are labelled "microwave safe." Being microwave safe means the container won't melt in the microwave, not that it won't transfer chemicals to your food.
Also, wash plastic utensils you use to prepare or store food by hand and not in the dishwasher to minimise creating micro-plastic particles.
5. Replace tea bags with loose-leaf tea.
One study found that when a plastic tea bag was brewed, 11.6 billion micro-plastics and 3.1 billion nano-plastics were released into the drink. Most teabags are made up of about 25% plastic. Even those marketed as paper are usually glued together with polypropylene, which is a type of plastic. Instead, try replacing tea bags with loose-leaf tea and using reusable, refillable linen tea bags or tea balls for steeping.
6. Bottled VS tap water.
Both tap and bottled water contain micro-plastic, but researchers discovered that bottled water contains twice as many micro-plastic particles as tap water. As a result, one of the largest sources of micro-plastic ingestion globally is through water. So choose the lesser of the two evils, go for the tap water, and use an eco-friendly bottle.
7. Reduce seafood consumption.
All types of sea life ingest micro-plastics that end up in the ocean. Micro-plastics have been found in 386 aquatic species. In addition, evidence suggests that micro-plastics and nano-plastics – which are even smaller – can move from the stomach of fish into their muscle tissue, which is what humans typically eat.
8. Buy plastic-free cosmetics.
Microbeads can show up in a variety of cosmetic and household products. Read labels carefully, looking for words that indicate the use of microbeads. Avoid products with ingredients such as polythene, abbreviated PE, polypropylene, abbreviated PP, polyethylene terephthalate, a form of polyester abbreviated PET or PETE, polymethyl methacrylate, abbreviated PMMA, nylon.
When creating Flower and Spice products, we are always guided by what is best for our customers and the environment. As a result, we strive to create high-quality products with the least environmental impact. When choosing our packaging, we considered the pros and cons of different types of packaging and decided use glass jars and bottles. Of course, we are aware that we can't altogether avoid plastic. However, we try to minimise the use of plastic, whether with our products, in our warehouse or office.
9. Regularly dust and vacuum.
A notable 39% of dust particles around the home are micro-plastics. You can reduce that amount by keeping your home as fresh and clean as possible. Vacuum and dust at least once a week. Use air filters or purifiers that capture micro-plastics and opt for hard flooring over carpet, as carpeting releases greater amounts of micro-plastics into the air.
10. Use public or alternative transportation.
Car tires are a significant source of micro-plastics, making up 28% of the micro-plastics found in the ocean. The tires break down when driving, sending tiny particles into the environment. Therefore, the fewer cars on the road, the fewer tires release micro-plastics.
We can limit our use and exposure to micro-plastics, but large-scale solutions are needed to combat plastic pollution. Support policies, politicians and organisations that are taking action. Vote for politicians who address plastic and micro-plastic pollution crises. Support measures that work to reduce the amount of plastics and micro-plastics across the globe.
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