Plastic is everywhere. Sadly, most of it is in the ocean. The plastic that ends up here often breaks down into small particles and these are called microplastics. On the other hand, there are plastics that are artificially small and these are called microbeads. This latter type of plastic has been designed by mankind and (sadly) feature in many health and beauty products. Both, do however have another thing in common: they are both incredibly damaging to our environment.
Plastic debris less than 5mm in length is classified as microplastic. Not a lot is known about the substance but it is an emerging field of study, other than its effect on marine life. Given its inconspicuous size, many animals, such as crabs and lugworms, fail to notice as it enters their system, and then becomes embedded in their tissue. But plants too suffer from the presence of microplastics. Take corals for example, who cannot cope with any particulate matter abiding on their exterior. In response to such an intruder, they excrete mucus - which costs them a lot of energy. This leaves them fragile and at a greater risk of mortality.
This sea otter maestro is doing a performance to raise money for research
We can only hope that, given the devastating amount of plastic already in the ocean, not to mention the amount soon to be heading that way, research in this area will grow exponentially. Which is the least we can do, because, after all, we caused the problem.
Now what about microbeads?
Well these destructive particles are not a new discovery. They are thought to have appeared around 50 years ago, where the beauty industry shifted from natural ingredients to less conscientious options. They are made of polypropylene and polystyrene and are often used to exfoliate skin given their ability to dislodge build-up in the pores and break up whiteheads. But at what cost?
Beautiful skin or a beautiful ocean?
Well, microbeads never really go away. When they are flushed down the drain, they make their way through sewage and into our rivers and oceans. You can now consider them plastic particle water pollution. Research found that fish then eat these microbeads, mistaking them for food. This causes various side effects, including destructive behaviour such as ignoring the smell of predators. In turn, they are too at a greater risk of mortality.
Thankfully, society is opening their eyes to the damage these plastics are causing.
In January 2018, the UK (finally) put in place a ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal case products. This is after America and the Netherlands set the example back in 2015. France have also banned microbeads as of 2018, and countries such as India and Italy plan to follow suit by 2020. We can only hope there is a light at the end of the plastic tunnel, and that our oceans will someday go back to being pollution-free.