This year’s Halloween horror story was brought to you by less than 5 millimeters “big”, yet global issue — MICROPLASTIC.
UNDP Serbia and neuron took an optimistic, hands-on approach for those willing to make a change to our plastic, blue planet.
Even though (micro)plastic pollution seems to be the problem with no single or fast solution, campaigns like this one can make a small difference which can lead to changes in our behavior over time. As Sir David Attenborough once said, the plastics crisis is entirely within humans’ power to solve, but only if we do it together.
Upon reading the study about microplastics found in the breastmilk of 26 Italian mothers a few months ago, the season finale of Blue Planet II came to my mind.
In one scene, David Attenborough’s series follows the story of a baby dolphin discovered dead after drinking her own mother’s milk.
As researchers found, the milk was heavily contaminated with — microplastics.
Even though our babies are not dying because of microplastic in their mothers’ milk, the research on the effects of omnipresent microplastic on human and planetary health is still in its infancy.
The aggregated data, though, shows that nanoplastic affects changes in human genes associated with abnormal eye development, heart valves, and cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Miodrag Stojković, a geneticist whose team pioneered the research on nanoplastics in relation to our health, found that microplastics easily enter human cells and embryos, changing their genetic profile.
This, as Stojković said to me two years back, may lead to the cellular disruption that can cause sterility, problems with embryo implantation, lung development, and embryo development in general.
In addition to entering the food chain through seafood, people can inhale microplastics from the air, ingest them from water and absorb them through the skin. Microplastics have recently been found in various human organs, and even in the placenta of newborn babies.
Assuming that only 15% of our total caloric intake comes from food from plastic packaging, it is calculated that the average person consumes up to a credit card weight of plastic every year — about 121,000 microplastic particles. Those of us who drink water in single-use plastic bottles ingest an additional 90,000 of these particles. People who work in construction, naval engineering, or the bathroom appliances industry, have a much higher daily intake of microplastics.
These almost invisible plastic particles are present in everyday items, including cigarettes, clothing, and cosmetics.
UNEP’s 2021 report From Pollution to Solution warns that chemicals in microplastics “are associated with serious health impacts, especially in women”. These can include changes to human genetics, brain development, and respiration rates, among other health issues.
What can you do to reduce microplastic pollution?
Easier said than done, but, stop smoking cigarettes.
With six trillion cigarettes consumed by one billion smokers annually, fibers found in cigarette filters (cellulose acetate for nerds) reach every corner of the world. Cigarette butts are the most common plastic litter on beaches, making marine ecosystems highly susceptible to microplastic leakages.
When they break down, cigarettes release microplastics, heavy metals, and many other chemicals that impact ecosystems’ health and services.
Buy Classic, Versatile, Durable Clothes & opt for recycled or sustainably sourced natural materials
Around 60% of all clothing material is made from plastic. Due to wear and tear from frequent washing, and machine-drying, textiles made of polyester, acrylic, spandex, or nylon shed microplastics — aka microfibres.
According to a 2020 UNEP report that maps the global textile value chain, around 9% of annual microplastic found in the oceans comes from clothes and other textiles.
Invest in clothing made by local designers and with eco-friendly materials, lyocell, organic or recycled cotton, hemp, linen, organic bamboo, wool, and silk, …
This one is an easy, low-hanging target: cut the single-use plastic like bags, drink bottles, utensils, or straws
Admit it, all of those plastic, single-use crap is not a necessity, it’s a bad, yet convenient habit we all do.
Many countries have recently introduced bans on plastic usage. It has become an increasingly popular way of curtailing their use, and limited evidence indicates they do have some effect.
Although it can be a useful step towards our plastic-reducing goal, without proper systematic, governmental, and global action, that could be the first, but also the last step in creating green habits.
Other random but useful ways for reducing microplastic leakage:
/ Menstrual cups or washable cotton pads use could be an option.
/ Ditch the fireworks for every celebratory event.
/ Avoid machine drying — go with the good ol’ air drying; use a cotton ball.
/ Don’t use plastic containers in the microwave, opt for glass or ceramics ones.
/ Stop buying plastic bottled water, this is self-explanatory.
/ Use public transportation, take a walk.
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