microplastics – plural noun
About 86 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment every year in the UK from facial exfoliants alone.
The biggest concern is the ingestion of these microplastics by aquatic organisms.
Clothes washing has been widely reported as a contributor to microplastics pollution.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that find their way into the water system and from there into the rivers and oceans, where they accumulate in vast quantities. They come from a wide range of sources, including industrial processes, microbeads from health and beauty products, and even clothes made from artificial fibres washed in domestic washing machines.
Microplastics are generally defined as pieces of plastic less than five millimetres long and it is becoming evident that, in addition to creating pollution on a huge scale, they can be harmful to aquatic life in ways that are just beginning to be fully understood. Of further concern is that having entered the food chain after being mistaken for food by marine creatures, they could be consumed by humans with possible detrimental effects on human health. Some might regard this as no more than poetic justice for humanity’s insatiable and growing appetite for plastic combined with our tendency to use the oceans as a giant waste disposal system.
Microplastics were first seen on beaches in the 1970s but the term itself is of recent coinage, coming into common use in the late 2000s.