Monday, February 18, 2019

Conservation Minute: Microplastics

lplc conservation minuteAs their name suggests, microplastics are small – very small. They can measure up to 1/5 of an inch, but most are microscopic. These plastic fragments, beads, and fibers originate from the breakdown of every-day products we use and wear, such as water bottles, plastic bags, sponges, and clothing.

Some make their way into our environment as trash that has degraded over time due to wind or wave action – others enter directly via our drains. Wastewater treatment plants do trap some microplastics, but many are too small to be filtered so they are discharged back into our lakes and streams.

microplasticsWhat is the problem? Microplastics absorb, carry, and leach persistent organic pollutants like PCBs, DDT and other chemicals in the environment and can bioaccumulate up the food chain. Fish, birds, and other animals consume these particles, mistaking it for food. Ingestion can cause toxicity and a number of gastrointestinal issues, even starvation when an animals’ stomach is full of debris rather than food. The microplastics can even make their way into our diet when we unknowingly consume the afflicted animals.

What can you do? Forego plastic where possible, especially single-use plastics. Stick to reusable and recyclable shopping bags and containers. Follow the ADK way and leave no trace. Ditch the sponges and choose products that are plant-based and/or biodegradable, like Swedish-style dish cloths. You can also reduce the amount of fibers lost while washing clothes and invest in a Cora Ball. Just toss this ball in your washing machine and it collects the fibers into fuzz that you can remove, keeping it out of our waterways.

Learn more at the Rozalia Project, and Microplastic Pollution: A Survey of Wastewater Effluent in Plattsburgh.

The Lake Placid Land Conservancy provides this Conservation Minute.

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Kerry Crowningshield is the Executive Director of the Lake Placid Land Conservancy, a community land trust working to conserve land in Lake Placid and the Ausable and Saranac River watersheds. She joined LPLC in 2016 as the Outreach Coordinator where she implemented a citizen science monitoring program and helped our communities better understand local resources and how to protect them. Prior to her work with LPLC, Kerry worked with the Lake Champlain Basin Program informing communities about water quality issues and threats facing the Lake Champlain Basin. Kerry lives in Port Kent near her extended family. When not working, you’ll find her kayaking, gardening, hiking, or photographing the many sights the Adirondacks has to offer.

16 Responses

  1. Ray Mainer says:

    Microplastics absorb many persistent toxins and sequester them. This renders them bio-unavailable and makes the water cleaner. Microplastics are a good thing.

  2. Wally Elton says:

    Where can we get a Cora Ball? Thanks for helping to raise understanding of this issue.

  3. Charlie S says:

    Ray Mainer says: “Microplastics absorb many persistent toxins and sequester them. This renders them bio-unavailable and makes the water cleaner. Microplastics are a good thing.”

    This is the first I have heard this! My understanding is that microplastics are a source of pollution and are a great problem in our oceans and a potential threat to aquatic life. They pollute the environment! What I’ve been reading is that microplastics are a large problem for fish, turtles….. Plastics themselves I know are no good for the environment. Microplastics! The micro version of plastics which I assume would be more dangerous due to their not being readily visible like the larger variety. ‘Unseen danger’ which evidently is being seen from what I’ve been hearing the past some years. Do the components of plastic change when they diminish in size? Do they become less toxic?

    You’re an optimist aren’t ya Ray?

  4. Ray Mainer says:

    Not necessarily and optimist, but I am a chemist. It’s a case of like absorbs like. Most plastics are non-polar and water is polar. Most persistent toxins are also non-polar so they are readily absorbed by plastics. Fluids in living things are mostly water therefore polar. Since non-polar things don’t like water they stay in the polar plastics.
    With the exception of some PVCs and polycarbonate plastic are not toxic. PVC and polycarbonate are quite dense and will sink. Munch away on microplastics and they will just come out the other end.
    I will admit microplastics could be a problem to filter feeders like zebra mussels and zooplankton and animals that feed on them.

  5. Charlie S says:

    “Like absorbs like.”

    > Okay! So if a fish absorbs microplastics it does not absorb ‘like’ else it would be absorbing another fish which is cannibalism which might prove better than absorbing plastics. There have been studies where dead fish were dissected and wallah….microplastics within which they say killed these fish. You’re a chemist and an optimist, at least moreso than the scientist who are doing these studies. Maybe i’m wrong but your take is a first to me.

    “Munch away on microplastics and they will just come out the other end.”

    > Sure they would as everything usually does, but in the meanwhile…. Would you gobble up a even a small handful of little balls of plastic Ray without fear of getting sick thereafter or ten years thereafter?

  6. Ray Mainer says:

    Plastics are nonbiodegradable and they are indigestible. They pass right through. I would not eat PVC or poly carbonate however.

    I could see why a very small fish could have its inside clogged up by microplastics the same way an animal could be harmed by a six pack ring or plastic bag. I still hold that they can clean toxins out of the water.

    Can you cite some references about fish mortality and microplastics?

    • Boreas says:


      A large concern is with plankton in the ocean. Instead of eating phytoplankton that actually give nutrition, they seem to like the micro-plastics. While not necessarily toxic, they aren’t food either. Using energy to eat plastic with no nutritional value, it remains to be seen how much of their diet can consist of plastic before their numbers crash. More plastic in the oceans every day. When the bottom of a food web crashes, look out.

      • JohnL says:

        ‘a large concern’…….’seem to like’…….’not necessarily toxic’………..’remains to be seen’…… Sounds like a Global Warming, er Climate Change argument.

        • Boreas says:


          The plankton research is in progress, so yes, facts are scant (not that you would believe them anyway). Use a little logic. It isn’t food yet organisms eat it. Fact: Many tons of plastic make their way to the ocean daily, and this is only likely to increase. Out of sight – out of mind only works for so long.

  7. Ray Mainer says:

    I admit I was exaggerating by saying microplastics are a good thing, but I stand by my saying that they remove toxins from the water and render them bio-unavailable. More research is needed of the effects of microplastics, and better ways to keep plastics out of the environment are needed.

    BTW plastics in the landfill absorb oil, solvents and other bad things that people throw in the landfill. There’s a good research topic for a thesis.

    • Boreas says:

      “More research is needed of the effects of microplastics, and better ways to keep plastics out of the environment are needed.”


  8. Charlie S says:

    “Can you cite some references about fish mortality and microplastics?”

    There’s reports out there Ray they go yea and nay. With computers, and Google, enough info is widely available for any of us to form an opinion on these matters. Plus there’s rational thinking. We choose to believe what we wish to believe and I just cannot believe plastics are good for fish, or any animal, or the environment. It would be dandy to be proven wrong on this because truthfully it’s depressing thinking about all of the suffering and damage us humans create regards just this one issue never mind the umpteenth others!

  9. Charlie S says:

    “plastics in the landfill absorb oil, solvents and other bad things ”

    Then what? What do the micro plastics do with them? They would have to be filtering systems to be of benefit for the environment. And then…how much toxins can they absorb and retain without leeching, or spitting them back out, into the soil, or water, where they are in operation or accumulating. These are just questions out of curiosity. It used to be ecosystems flushed themselves out, or seemingly so as pure as they were… until the white man came along and began his mass assault on every thing green that got in his way which he continues to do to this day. We’re polluting systems nothing less. It’s about us screw everything else come hell or high water! We feed the earth and water systems plastics, oil, sewage… I cannot see micro plastics as a benefit to the ecosystems on this wee orb earth.

    • JohnL says:

      “until the white man came along”. Just ‘White Men’ Charlie? Just Europeans and their descendants?? Nobody else contributed to your ‘hell on earth’? Just trying to figure you out pal. I think I’m closing in on an opinion.

  10. Charlie S says:

    They called them ‘the White Bostons’ back in the day John, and surely there were other names. The white man! Not black. Not red. Not purple. Did you hear the one about all of those millions of buffalo that once roamed this great country of ours?

  11. Wendy Taylor says:

    Thank you for the information on microplastics. Was not really aware of this type of pollution.

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