Every Green Friday post aims to bring you new ideas and ways to Live Green, decreasing your carbon footprint and saving you money in the long-term. However, living greener does not always mean making a huge life choice and investment in new technology. As such, today’s post and posts in the following weeks will attempt to introduce simple ways you can cut back on things that can cause damage to the environment and, in the long-run, you. Jumping right in, today will focus on microplastics, what they are, how pervasive they are, and what you can do to limit their proliferation into nature, our water supplies, and food.
Though many of you may already be well-aware of what microplastics are, others may only be hearing of them for the first time or have only heard them mentioned in passing conversation. For those needing an introduction or refresher, microplastics are particles of plastic that measure 5 or less millimeters in size and we are starting to find them in everything from our water to food to even our rain. These particles are either produced in such sizes, think the microbeads you find in some facewashes and fuzz that comes off synthetic textiles, or generated through the breakdown of bigger plastic particles as they degrade over time in our landfills and oceans. Due to their size, it is incredibly difficult to filter them from sediment and water. Further, their size makes them perfect candidates to leach into our water and food chains.
As reported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, marine microplastics have been identified in the stomachs of animals ranging from whales to even the smallest zooplankton (more reading on marine microplastics can be found in their extensive online resources). Further, on-land impacts have been recorded by the USGS, wherein microplastics were found in the rain collected in Colorado raising concerns of microplastics escaping from our oceans and land into our air. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization and reported by The Guardian, these pollutants have not relegated themselves to staying on the surface, as they have also be found making their way into drinking water supplies, though it is not known whether microplastics currently present any health concerns. These are certainly concerning developments as these barely seen but prolific particles have seemingly found their ways into every corner of the world, even recently showing up in human stool samples. However, though it may be easy to write-off any limitation of these already common pollutants from becoming more and more commonplace, there are ways we can change our day-to-day activities to limit further intrusion.
To make a concerted effort to stop microplastics from getting a greater foothold on our planet, we need to first think of where they are coming from. We come in contact with plastics every day, many of which are single-use items that immediately go into landfills and contribute to microplastic generation as they break down. By taking a moment to think about the plastics we use and come up with ways to replace them with metal, glass, or non-synthetic utensils, clothes, etc., we can immediately take more microplastics out of circulation. Changes in our behaviors can be as simple as switching to a face wash that does not contain microbeads; many companies have already phased microbeads out of their wash products. Additionally, by purchasing clothes that are 100% cotton rather than microfiber, we can remove load after load of microplastic fibers from the wastewaters coming from our laundry. Even choosing to brew our tea using a french press or metal tea ball rather than ‘premium silken’ plastic teabags can help remove microplastics from getting into our waterways and bodies; who wants to have a cuppa of microplastics anyway?
From renewable and reusable products to increased recycling to avoiding disposable plastics altogether, we can collectively make small inroads towards preventing more plastics from getting into our environments and food chains. Living greener is not always easy, but life never is. With this and future Green Friday posts, I hope to bring you a range of ways, big and small, we can use to move towards a greener future together.