As 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.
What 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.