Five Fast Facts on Microplastics

  1. Each year, 8 million tons of plastics enter our oceans; that is equivalent to dumping a truckload of plastics into the ocean every minute.
  2. Plastics in the ocean do not biodegrade, but rather break into smaller and smaller pieces. When combined with microplastics, such as microbeads in personal care products, released directly into waterways, the majority of plastics in the ocean are less than 5 millimeters in size (less than 1/4 inch).
  3. Microplastics and the chemicals that attach to them in the water can contaminate the food chain, including seafood products eaten by people.
  4. In 2015, the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act became law. This law requires that companies stop using tiny beads of plastic in personal care products, where they were used as abrasives, by July 2017. (A similar law was passed in California in October 2015 that would have established the same ban effective January 1, 2020.) Microbeads are commonly used in facial cleansers, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
  5. Fleece and synthetic clothing shed microplastics into the water with each washing. In fact, a fleece jacket sheds about 2,000 pieces of plastic per washing. Wastewater treatment plants do not have the ability to screen these tiny pieces, meaning they end up in both the discharged water and the sludge that is composted. Learn more in this short video.

What can you do to reduce microplastics pollution? Here are five fast things to do!

  1. Avoid products with microbeads before the product ban goes into effect. Look for the words “polyethylene” or “polystyrene” on the ingredient label.
  2. Wash fleece and other synthetic fabrics less often. This also saves water and energy.
  3. Don’t litter, and pick up the litter you see. Take part in beach and other litter cleanups.
  4. Close the lid on your trash and recycling carts when you place them at the curb.
  5. Carry and use reusable shopping bags. Say “no thanks” to single-use plastic bags.

Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres

Sources: “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics” (2016), Project MainStream, a collaboration of the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company; “Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads” (2015), Society for Conservation Biology; “From Fleece Jackets to Your Food: The Scary Journey of Microplastics” (2015), National Geographic

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