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Microplastics: Small Plastics, Big Problem

Most items that are an integral part of our daily routine are made of plastics. Plastic is an incredibly versatile and durable material, which is why it is so popular today. Furniture, containers, appliances, packaging, and even synthetic clothing can lead to the release of tiny plastics called microplastics into our environment and water systems.

Tiny plastics called microplastics are present in our environment and water systems. Sarah Kavanaugh Rogers, ©2019 Clemson Extension

Tiny plastics called microplastics are present in our environment and water systems.
Sarah Kavanaugh Rogers, ©2019 Clemson Extension

Marine debris has been slowly transforming our oceans into plastic soup. Sarah Kavanaugh Rogers, ©2019 Clemson Extension

Marine debris has been slowly transforming our oceans into plastic soup.
Sarah Kavanaugh Rogers, ©2019 Clemson Extension

However, our reliance on plastic has begun to take its toll on our environment. As plastics are exposed to sun, wind, and water, they begin to degrade into smaller pieces. Because plastics are made from petroleum, they do not decompose. Instead, they continue to persist in our environment, adsorbing other contaminants from polluted runoff and becoming increasingly toxic.

Marine debris has been slowly transforming our oceans into plastic soup. Trash gyres, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch draw in plastic debris where it becomes trapped. Many marine mammals get entangled in or mistake these plastic pieces, both large and small, for food. Once ingested, these toxic particles fill the stomachs of unfortunate animals and leach chemicals into their muscle and tissue. Microplastics can be passed up the food chain and find their way into sea birds, marine mammals, mollusks, and animals that live along the coasts. As our food chain becomes more permeated with plastics, it is likely that it can also make its way to our dinner plates.

Simple ways to reduce microplastic pollution are achieved by using reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, and fabric shopping bags. Additionally, choose more sustainable packaging, such as cardboard and recyclable materials whenever possible. Microplastics have taught us that sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact.

For more information, please refer to:

https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/research/detecting-microplastics-marine-environment

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/tackling-microplastics-our-own

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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