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Microplastics
Mar 26, 2016

What are they: Plastic debris is found in the environment in a very wide range of sizes. Researchers first reported finding tiny beads and fragments of plastic, especially polystyrene, in the ocean in the early 1970s. The term ‘microplastics’ was introduced in the mid-2000s. Today, it is used extensively to describe plastic particles with an upper size limit of 5 mm

Why in News: In an application seeking a ban of these pollutants the National Green Tribunal issued notices to the Union health, environment and water resources ministries seeking their comments on what has been done to identify and curb thieat.


Danger of microplastics:

  • There is no way of effectively removing microplastic contamination once it is in the environment.
     
  • Causing severe water pollution, what adds to the problem is the unregulated production and usage of plastics in microbeads
     
  • There is growing evidence that the amount of microplastics in marine waters is increasing with unknown ecotoxicological consequences.
     
  • It was also reported about the use of microbeads used as “scrubbers” in cosmetics products are being released into the natural environment and potentially made available to organisms. Ingestion of microplastics has been reported for a wide range of marine organisms including deposit and suspension feeders, crustaceans, fish, marine mammals, and seabirds
     
  • Once these microbeads find their way into the water bodies, they just sit in the water and act as vehicles for other pollutants

Where are these found:

  • Plastic debris (including microplastics) is found in greater abundance close to its sources, and all plastic debris tends to be found in higher quantities near population centres.
     
  • The ocean circulation transports floating plastic around the globe over the course of the years. Ocean circulation produces convergence zones, where microplastics tend to accumulate. These large-scale sub-tropical ocean gyres occur in the North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean

Sources of Microplastic

  • Microplastics (e.g. polyethylene spheres) are included in personal care products such as toothpaste and skin care products.
     
  • In some cases microplastics have replaced natural ingredients, such as pumice or ground seeds and shells in skin cleansers and scrubs. They tend not to be filtered out during sewage treatment, but to be released directly to the ocean or other water bodies such as lakes and rivers
     
  • Microplastics are also found in synthetic textiles.
     
  • Wastewater collected after synthetic blankets, fleeces or shirts were washed in a washing machine contained more than 100 fibres per litre of water.

  • Industrial Sources: Plastic resin pellets are industrial feedstock for plastic products. They are typically spherical or cylindrical and only a few millimetres in diameter. In addition, plastic microbeads are used in many industrial applications, including as ingredients in printer inks, spray paints, injection mouldings and abrasives
     
  • Plastic debris and Microplastic: Secondary microplastics are formed when plastic items fragment and disintegrate. The rate at which fragmentation occurs is highly dependent on the environmental setting, especially temperature and the amount of UV light available.Any sea-based or land-based human activity can result in litter being released to the environment. Plastic debris may enter the ocean directly, or it may find its way there via other water bodies or the atmosphere

Source: UNEP, TheHindu


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