Why is Microplastics in the sea and the environment a problem and how does it get there in the first place? It wasn't too long ago that we had very little to do with the Microplastics busy. The small plastic parts, which are smaller than 5 mm, are unfortunately difficult to recognize and yet are part of one of the biggest environmental problems of our time - the Plastic waste in the environment.
In this article you will learn everything about microplastics in the sea and the environment. From statistics to causes, consequences and solutions. Let's go!
The following is a short Table of contents about the contribution:
- Facts & Figures
- Closing words
NoteWhen I talk about plastic waste in the sea in the article, this usually also automatically refers to plastic waste in the environment. This is because microplastics that are initially produced on land also end up in the sea through rain, wastewater and rivers.
Facts & figures about microplastics in the environment
Confirmed facts and figures help us to understand the problem of microplastics in the sea. The following Estimates by the Federal Environment Agency₁ on the subject of microplastics in the environment should make it clear to everyone how serious the situation is:
- 80 - 400 t Microplastics flow into the sea and the environment every year when we wash our clothes
- 60.000 - 111.000 t Microplastics are released into the environment every year through tire abrasion from road traffic and ultimately into the sea
- 21.000 - 210.000 t of microplastics in the environment are produced each year during the manufacture and transportation of plastic products due to the loss of the small, raw plastic pellets.
It is shocking that our laundry, driving and the production of plastic products alone account for such a large proportion of the microplastics released into the environment every year.
I will now discuss these and other causes of microplastics in the sea in the following paragraph.
Causes of microplastics in the sea
Before I tell you the causes, I would like to explain something essential about microplastics in the environment. As you can see from this graphic, microplastics can be divided into primary and secondary microplastics:
- Primary microplastics: This refers to plastic in raw, tiny form - as so-called plastic pellets. For example, we find Microplastics in cosmetics or in clothing. Sandblasting during the cleaning of ships also releases primary microplastics directly into the sea.
- Secondary microplastics: This form of microplastic is created when larger pieces of plastic break down over the years. Sun, wind, friction and waves can cause a plastic bottle, for example, to decompose into more than 10,000 small plastic pieces in around 500 years.
Thanks to these definitions from BUND₃, you now know that microplastics in the sea are basically Two overriding causes has.
On the one hand, sewage treatment plants cannot prevent microplastics from entering our waterways and ultimately the sea from our households (e.g. as components of shower gel and scrubs). On the other hand, larger pieces of plastic that have been released into the environment at some point, such as plastic cups or plastic bags, gradually decompose into microplastics.
The most common sources of microplastics
We now know how microplastics end up in the sea. But how does this apply to our everyday lives? Where do I leave microplastics behind every day? A study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology in Oberhausen in 2018₄ provides a clear answer to this question based on annual grams per capita values:
- Car tires (1,228.5 g / per capita per year)
- Waste disposal (302.8 g / per capita per year)
- Asphalt (228 g / per capita per year)
- Plastic granules (182 g / per capita per year)
- Sports and playgrounds (131.8 g / per capita per year)
- Construction sites (117.1 g / per capita per year)
- Shoe soles (109 g / per capita per year)
- Plastic packaging (99 g / per capita per year)
- Road markings (91 g / per capita per year)
- Textile wash (76.8 g / per capita per year)
So when we drive our cars, do sport, do our laundry or simply go shopping, every single citizen, no matter how far away from the sea, has a share in the microplastics in the ocean.
Consequences of microplastics in the sea
Whether large or small pieces of plastic - it doesn't really matter. After all, even large pieces of plastic, such as bags or bottles, eventually decompose into secondary microplastics in the sea. Every year, around 8 million more tons of plastic waste end up in the sea, eventually ending up in the 5 huge Garbage swirls circling on our oceans.
According to studies, by 2050 we will have as many plastic particles and microplastics in the sea as fish. Our behavior will not remain without consequences.
Consequences of microplastics for the environment
Every year, around 100,000 marine mammals and 1,000,000 seabirds die as a result of large and small plastics in the sea.₅
The animals think it is food or strangle themselves on the sturdy plastic. Even corals or krill can ingest microplastics in the sea, which means that the plastic is already waiting to be passed on at the beginning of the food chain.
I would like to explain the consequences of large plastics and microplastics in the sea using a discarded plastic six-pack ring:
- Someone throws a six-pack ring into the sea.
- A young sea turtle gets its head caught in the plastic ring so that it won't come loose.
- The sea turtle grows and the ring begins to constrict her head, ultimately costing her her life.
- Over the course of many years, the six-pack ring gradually decomposes into smaller microplastics.
- A salmon thinks the microplastics in the sea are food and eats the plastic.
- The plastic goes into the cells of the fish. (Microplastics in the food chain)
- We eat the fish including the microplastic.
Incidentally, NABU has published a recommended brochure on the consequences of plastic and microplastics in the sea, which you can download here. you can see here.
Consequences of microplastics for our health
As you have already seen in the paragraph on the causes of microplastics in the sea, we end up with the microplastics we have caused ourselves in the form of oysters or fish on our dinner table.
The highest number of microplastic fragments found in the stomach of one fish was 83.Christiana M. Boerger (Marine Pollution Bulletin 60)
Marine researchers have found 83 microplastic particles₆ in a single fish alone. This is how the Plastic into the food chain (bioaccumulation of toxins) and eventually ends up as a component of our meals.
The health consequences of microplastics in our food chain for us humans are largely unexplored. The only thing that is clear is that they have a negative impact on marine animals such as crabs or mussels. Inflammation, physiological disorders and higher mortality rates cause.
All the more reason to work on solutions to the problem of microplastics in the sea.
Solutions against microplastics in the sea
The possible solutions to microplastics are so incredibly diverse that it is difficult to name them all. Nevertheless, I have put together a brief overview of possible solutions and approaches to the problem of microplastics in the sea:
1. plastic free living against microplastic
By living as plastic-free as possible, you not only reduce your packaging waste, but also your contribution to the microplastic problem. Replace single-use plastic products with reusable products. For example, replace a plastic straw with a washable one Stainless steel straw. You can find out more about this in the article Life without plastic.
2. living car-free for less microplastics
Since every German leaves behind an average of 1,228.5 g of microplastics per year through the abrasion of car tires alone, one rule for less microplastics in everyday life is obvious. The less you drive, the less microplastics you produce. You can find out more about this in the article Life without car.
3. clothes without plastic or laundry bags
While clothing made from hemp or other plant fibers used to enjoy a hippie image, the sustainable clothing the absolute trend today. Organic cotton, linen, hemp or modal. Natural materials have brought a breath of fresh air to the dusty and anything but sustainable fashion industry. To prevent microplastics in the sea from your washing cycles, you can, for example, adapt your clothing. The alternative is the Guppyfriend wash bagin which clothes with plastic fibers are placed before washing. The bag catches the dissolved microplastic fibers and prevents them from going down the drain.
4. separate waste correctly to combat microplastics
According to the Fraunhofer Institute, waste disposal generates 302.8 g / per capita of microplastics per year. Separate waste correctly or not to produce it at all. In the article Sustainable life hacks from our grandparents you can find out how the latter was already implemented by grandma & grandpa. At a time, by the way, when it was Plastic did not yet exist.
5. use apps against microplastic
The smartphone is not only available to us for Angry Birds, but can also prevent microplastics in the sea. Use the App CodeCheckwhich you can use to scan and expose products in the supermarket. It immediately shows whether microplastics are hidden in shower gels, creams and other products. With the App Replace Plastic you can also scan the manufacturer to let them know that you would have bought their product without microplastics or plastic packaging.
Microplastics in the ocean & environment
And since microplastics are also released into the environment through shoe soles - as much as possible, of course Walk barefoot. 😉
Joking aside! You don't have to be extreme to save microplastics from the sea or the environment. But it helps to know the sources of microplastics in order to reduce your personal contribution to the problem of microplastics in the environment.
As you can see, the barely visible microplastic has become a massive Environmental problem that not only threatens the environment and animals, but also our own health. Even though time is of the essence, there is a solution for every problem - including microplastics in the environment. In this article, you have learned how you can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Let's make the best of it!
PS.: In the article Zero Waste Lifestyle you will learn all the basic rules for making your everyday life as waste-free as possible. And under Avoid microplastics you can find out more about the reduction of mini-plastic in everyday life. Have fun!
₂ eskp.de/CC BY 4.0, Helmholtz Knowledge Platform "Earth and Environment", ESKP.
₆ Chr.M. Boerger et al, 'Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre', in: Marine Pollution Bulletin 60 (2010), pp. 2275-2278.