Can we hide? Doral Family Journal

By: Maria Alejandra Pulgar

Para leer en Espanol

Plastics are all around us. Plastics were invented at the dawn of the 20 th Century. This was a major breakthrough in many industries around the globe. These synthetic materials revolutionized industries, and made people’s lives better.

At that time, no one thought about what to do with these disposable materials after they are no longer needed. In 100 years’ time, we have landfills filled with tons of plastic, but also an atmosphere full of tiny particles that are impossible to remove. They have a huge impact on human health and the environment. Many studies are being conducted around the globe, and they are also the focus of many U.N. sustainable goals.

Nanoplastics is a term used to describe particles that are smaller than 100 nanometers. This is the same size as a human hair. Some microplastics are created for a specific use, but most are the result after larger plastic waste is exposed to environmental factors. Micro and nanoplastics can enter the environment through washing synthetic clothes, the abrasion caused by car tires when driving, the incineration of waste plastics at landfills or the weathering of plastics that are left outside.

It is not easy to get rid of these substances, which enter the natural ecosystems via different processes and products, such as cosmetics and industrial processes. We need to concentrate on prevention and avoidance at this stage, as reversing the damage done by plastics to the environment, while not impossible, is going to take a lot of time, talent and money from both individuals and governments.

We can hide, but not run.

Plastics are convenient, but they can also be a problem. Imagine a 1950s mother caring for her baby with glass bottles and cloth nappies. The use of disposable materials made difficult tasks, which took time to complete, obsolete. This gave people more time for other activities, joining the workforce or developing new processes to support the rapid evolution of the 20 thcentury. Evolution has had a lasting impact on the environment and we now have to deal with its consequences.

While primary microplastics have been developed to be small and can be used to make products such as facial scrubs or tooth paste, secondary microplastics result from the degradation of large plastics that are discarded or exposed to environmental factors.

Microplastics are found in marine environments around the world and they can contain toxic chemicals which accumulate in food chains. The toxins in microplastics can be passed on to other organisms or humans when animals ingest them. Microplastics can concentrate pollutants in seawater and create even more dangerous conditions for the environment.

The smaller “siblings” of microplastics are nanoplastics. They appear when plastics degrade in the environment or when industrial processes leave behind residues. These nanoplastics are so small that they can easily travel long distances and infiltrate different environments. They have also been found in seawater, air, snow and soil. The National Center for Biotechnology has published recent studies that discuss the discovery of nanoplastics within human blood, lung and liver cells, and reproductive tissue. Scientists who are trying to find ways to reduce their presence in the environment face a unique challenge because of their size and potential impact.

Being proactive is the key to preventing risk.

What can we do? What can be done? It’s not all doom and gloom, but people in developed countries need to be proactive and take initiative to reduce and prevent microplastics and Nanoplastics pollution.

It can be hard to avoid microplastics completely, but they can be avoided with simple steps such as choosing natural products instead of cosmetics that contain microbeads. You can also choose clothing made with natural fibers in order to reduce the amount of microplastics shed when you wash them.

Nevertheless, no individual initiative can be successful without the support of governments and industry to reduce plastic production and usage or to invest in research that will find alternative materials that are less harmful to the environment.

In the first two decades, the 21 st Century, there has been a greater awareness of the effects of microplastics in the environment and on human health. In Asia, Europe and the U.S., studies have been conducted on the effects of plastics pollution. This has increased concern and the need for prevention and correction.

Far from being a cause for fear, the concern about microplastics and Nanoplastics as a danger to the environment, and consequently, the human health, should serve as a wakeup call for us to take responsibility for our role in caring for the environment. The actions we take now will determine what legacy we leave to future generations as we work towards the UN 2030 target. The way forward is simple: reduce, innovate and collaborate in order to preserve a healthy planet for future generations.