When it comes to microplastics, there’s rarely good news. Researchers continue to find the tiny plastic fragments everywhere they look.
Microplastics have been found in rain, Arctic ice cores, inside the fish we eat, as well as in fruit and vegetables. New research suggests 136,000 tons of microplastics are ejected from the ocean each year, ending up in the air we breathe. They are in human placentas, our wastewater, and our drinking water.
All plastic waste, regardless of size, is detrimental to the environment, but microplastics pose a special challenge given their minuscule size (some are 150 times smaller than a human hair) and ability to enter the food chain. The result is that chemical additives and all end up in the flesh and organs of fish and humans. While the World Health Organization’s stance is that ingesting microplastics poses no known threat to human health, not everyone agrees.
“I think we know enough today to worry about it,” says Dr Douglas Rader, chief oceans scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, pointing out that many microplastics contain chemicals linked to reproductive and hormonal disruption and cancer.
But it’s not all bad news. Some are now innovating in microplastic extraction, providing the basis for a touch of cautious optimism. Here is a look at several examples.