Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s new environment plan sets ambitious goals for plastic waste reduction. But there’s lots of room for slippage. One goal is to eradicate all “avoidable” plastic waste, though it’s not clear how “avoidable” will be defined. A few concrete measures are now in place, such as the 5p plastic bag charge being extended to cover all businesses in England. And, in order to tackle the spread of tiny plastic particles, the government recently announced a ban on microbeads in personal care products.

But such measures, even if adopted worldwide, wouldn’t actually wipe out these “microplastics” in the environment.

The problem is that all plastic ends up tiny. And it persists, no matter what its size. In the ocean, even the largest and most resilient bits of plastic are broken up and degraded by the waves and sunlight until eventually these chunks measure less than five millimetres across – about the size of an ant – and they are classed as “secondary microplastics”. This type of plastic, that started out as drinks bottles, fishing gear, disposable cutlery and so on, is much more abundant than “primary microplastics” that started out small, such as the microbeads found in toothpaste.

Microbeads are among the most familiar sources of tiny plastic pollution, but this means there are other less obvious sources of microplastics in everyday use. These are called “stealth microplastics.”

Here is how they start…

 

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