Not unlike germs, microplastics are extremely small but very dangerous. They are actually made up of microscopic pieces of plastic that are remnants of materials made from plastic. And there certainly is no shortage of plastic objects being manufactured worldwide. And while microplastics are often associated with the increasing amount of plastic found in ocean, they are actually found everywhere, often as a result of plastic bottles and similar debris, including plastic bags and pieces of packaging materials, degrading into smaller fragments due to exposure to sunlight (UV radiation).

In fact, researchers now estimate that there is just as much microplastic found on land or air borne, as there is in the ocean and other bodies of water. Such microplastics are often found in the form of microfibers, which shed from synthetic fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, nylon and polymers, all of which are actually types of plastics. Therefore, places that manufacture, sell, or dispose of synthetic clothing, upholstery, carpets or other forms of textiles make up a considerable source of microfibers. This is not to say that simply wearing synthetic clothing, running your clothes through a washing machine or even hanging clothing outdoors to dry won’t send microfibers into the air. They will, in small amounts. Other sources of microplastic and microfibers can come from the plastic additives found in car tires as they wear down, as well as in paints, coatings and varnishes.

And then there are microbeads which are actually tiny polystyrene beads first developed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in 1977. In an effort to cut costs in the production of such as cosmetics, body washes, toothpastes, and body cleansing products, companies began replacing natural substances with plastic microbeads. In fact, the United Nations Environment Program found that a typical exfoliating shower gel might contain as much plastic in microbeads there is in its plastic container. Microbeads can be found at home or in water as you rinse out your sink. They are essentially another form of plastic.

How Does This Affect Us?


Microplastics and microfibers are clearly part of our industrialized environment. They have also been found in our water, air, clothing, and even within the human body. Stories of microplastics in humor organs, and even in breast milk have made the newspapers. They can cause pulmonary illnesses and respiratory issues such as asthma as well as skin disorders and dysfunction to human cell activity.

What do we do?

First we can make a greater effort to limit our use of one-time plastics. This means not only recycling, but also using reusable grocery bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and so forth. You can also support local, regional or national legislation to curb the use of one-time plastic. There are efforts and bills be created worldwide to curb the use of plastic, such as the 2021 Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, in the United States, which is a federal bill created to address the plastic pollution crisis.

Switching away from synthetic fabrics and looking for natural fabrics derived from plant, animal, or mineral sources, such as cotton, silk, wool, linen, and hemp would help minimize the spread of microfibers, while buying only cosmetic products made without microbeads can also make a difference. Read labels carefully and help minimize the overuse of plastics in our homes and in our environment.