One of the main problems with plastics is that although we may only need them fleetingly – seconds in the case of microbeads in personal care products, or minutes as in plastic grocery bags – they stick around for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, much of this plastic ends up as environmental pollution.
We’ve all seen the gruesome images of a sea turtle killed by a plastic bag, or the array of bottle caps, toothbrush fragments, and other plastic items found in the stomach of an albatross carcass. But what about the tiny microplastics that aren’t as readily visible?
Much of the hundreds of millions of tons of plastic waste in our oceans is made up of microplastics. These are defined as plastic beads, fibers or fragments with a diameter of less than five thousand micrometers (μm), equal to one-half centimeter. Nanoplastics are thousands of times tinier, with a diameter of less than 0.1 μm, and are also likely to be widely present. By comparison, a human hair ran