Invisible particles that break down from products such as synthetic fabrics account for a third of all plastic polluting the oceans, warns the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They have a great impact on environmental ecosystems and human health.
The images of trash floating in the ocean, an area the size of a country, are shocking. By contrast, the particles washed out of textiles and roads make waterways appear unpolluted. But they are a major part of the plastic soup that fills the oceans. According to the International Unionfor Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an estimated 9.5 million tons of plastic is released into the ocean each year, of which 15 to 31 percent are microplastics.
In its “Primary Microplastics in the Ocean” report, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) noted that microplastics are a bigger source of Marine plastic pollution than plastic waste, despite effective waste management systems in many developed countries such as North America and Europe.
As well as car tyres and synthetic textiles, they are responsible for everything from ship paint and road markings to city dust and cosmetic microbeads. “Our daily activities, such as washing our clothes and driving our cars, significantly contribute to Marine pollution and have the potential to harm Marine biodiversity and human health,” it warned.
Karl Gustaf Lundin points out that these particles are so small that they can travel through the membranes of our bodies that we believe it could have a big impact. Tire manufacturers, for example, can now switch back to using mainly rubber, while textile manufacturers have stopped using plastic coatings on clothing. Washing machine manufacturers can also install filters to filter particles.
He says these measures have helped reduce harm. He says the situation is particularly acute in the Arctic Ocean, the biggest source of seafood for Europe and North America. “Plastic particles freeze and enter the sea ice. When you have particles in the sea ice, its melting point drops, so the glacial sea ice disappears faster.” He noted that when sea ice melts, it releases plankton that attracts fish, which puts microplastics “right into our food chain.”