Single-Use Plastics, Microplastics and Nanoplastics: Understanding the Different Types of Plastic Pollution
The best tool for any type of global change is knowledge. Most consumers are aware plastic, and plastic pollution, is dangerous to the environment. Fewer would be able to specify that danger, and fewer still would be able to come up with types of plastic other than single-use examples – like water bottles and plastic straws.
Armed with new knowledge, we, as individuals, can make more environmentally-conscious decisions and improve our way of life.
Types of Plastic Pollution
Knowing the different types of plastic pollution can lead you to reasonable solutions you can incorporate into your lifestyle. Most plastic pollution falls under one of the big three:
1. Single-Use Plastics
The term “single-use plastics” refers to any plastic item meant to be used once and then discarded. You probably can’t go a single day without seeing one of these plastic items: straws, fast food containers, cup lids, grocery bags, or plasticware.
These plastics are filling the ocean and impacting marine life in alarming ways. By 2040, as much as 37 million metric tons of plastic could enter the ocean each year, which equals the weight of 178 Symphony of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world.
As daunting as the plastic epidemic sounds, you are capable of making a difference. Policymakers and corporations need to make changes at their level, but the small changes at an individual level add up to a significant impact. Easy switches – like using a water filter and reusable bottles instead of single-use plastic water bottles – keep more plastic out of our landfills and out of the ocean.
As plastic degrades, it breaks down into smaller particles. These microplastics are under 5 millimeters and are very difficult to see with the naked eye. Tiny plastic particles look like food to small marine animals who slowly starve, since they are incapable of digesting them. Hurting creatures at the bottom of the ecosystem affects everything else, all the way up to humans.
One of the best ways to combat microplastics is to shop more sustainably for clothing. A recent study found polyester was responsible for three-quarters of the microplastic pollution in the Arctic. These fibers slough off when you do your laundry. Wash your clothing in cold water, and purchase clothes made from organic materials, to help mitigate some of the microplastic pollution.
Nanoplastics are microplastics reduced in size to be smaller than 100 nanometers. This type of plastic is small enough to interact with humans, animals, and plants at a cellular level. Nanoplastics are small enough to be in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and can even travel from mother to baby during pregnancy. Scientists are working to study the implications of exposure to nanoplastics, but research is relatively new and limited.
The easiest way to help reduce nanoplastics in our environment is to go to the source: larger and single-use plastics. In addition, you can use an air filter designed to remove nanoparticles and vacuum more frequently to improve your air quality. You could also be more mindful of plastics touching your food. When plastic is heated, like when you microwave food in a plastic container, nanoparticles leach into the food. These small particles can also come from plastic wrap.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
It will take time for big businesses and politicians to make the changes necessary to reduce plastic pollution. While we can’t force them directly to work faster, consumers can influence change through their purchasing power. Individuals can make a difference by putting their money where their mind is.
If removing plastic waste from the environment is important to you, demonstrate by purchasing from brands committed to reducing single-use plastic and using biodegradable packaging. Continue to grow in knowledge and make better choices each day.
Author bio: Jane Marsh works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Environment.co.