Amazing Kids! Magazine

Enter: Micro Plastics

By Caoimhe Hanretta, age 12, Illinois

 

What do turtle guts, human poop, fish insides, and flying insects all have in common? They have all, at some time, been found to have micro plastics in them. Micro plastics are exactly what they sound like; super teeny pieces of plastic (some are microscopic!) that come from breaking down larger pieces of plastic. Think plastic bags, plastic bottles, and even contact lenses! Because micro plastics are so small, animals are likely to consume them unknowingly.

A recent study published in journal Global Change Biology examined over one hundred sea turtles. The study covered every turtle species and found turtles from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean.  It found micro plastics in the belly of every single one. Most of the debris came from tires, cigarettes, clothing, and rope. Specialist Emily Duncan says that while most micro plastics do pass easily through animals, they may carry diseases and bacteria.

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, that’s unfortunate, but at least I don’t have to worry about micro plastics!” Wrong. Micro plastics can very much affect humans. Recently, scientists studied eight different humans from all around the world. Like the sea turtle study, every one of the participants were found to have a form of micro plastic in their feces. While it’s not one hundred percent certain that the plastic came from the subjects’ diet, each had consumed (in the week before the study) at least one food/drink that has previously been found to contain micro plastic, such as seafood, beer, and bottled water. They also had all eaten food in plastic packaging.

This is disturbing enough as it is, but let’s look at two more studies. Ecotoxicologist (someone who studies how chemicals affect organisms) Mark Browne conducted a study in which he found micro plastics in the blood cells of mussels and fish. These fish were ready to be sold and eaten at a local restaurant! A separate study found that mosquitos can transmit micro plastics through biting. So, next time you get bitten, you may have a bit of plastic in you! These are just two examples of the many ways micro plastics can enter the human body.

So, what’s the big deal? Why are micro plastics so bad for the environment and the animals that live in it? Well, let’s just start by pointing out the number of marine creatures that die every year due to plastic: Over one million. Plus, studies have shown that when humans consume micro plastics, the risk of developing breast cancer is higher, as well as liver, kidney, and intestine problems.

Hopefully this article inspired you to do something about micro plastics. So, what can you do? Start small. Try to avoid purchasing foods with lots of excess packaging, for example. Or, use a cloth bag from home when grocery shopping, and don’t take a plastic bag from the cashier if you don’t need one. It can even be as simple as throwing out disposable contact lenses rather than flushing them! What will you do to help fight against micro plastics?


BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Microplastics and Mosquitos: What Do They Have in Common?” Ocean Conservancy, 5 Oct. 2018, oceanconservancy.org/blog/2018/10/05/microplastics-mosquitos-common/?ea.tracking.id=18HPXGJAXX&gclid=Cj0KCQiApbzhBRDKARIsAIvZue-WQqRp0MQEUNAtCLvt1kfkSwXbYXqwBqQ_GGNQTlC1CoZsyzXXUO8aAubUEALw_wcB.

Picheta, Rob. “Microplastics Found in Human Stools, Research Finds.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Oct. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/10/23/health/microplastics-human-stool-pollution-intl/index.html.

Robinson, Matthew. “Microplastics Found in Gut of Every Sea Turtle in New Study.” CNN, Cable News Network, 5 Dec. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/12/05/world/microplastic-pollution-turtles-study-intl-scli/index.html.

Thompson, Andrea. “From Fish to Humans, A Microplastic Invasion May Be Taking a Toll.” Scientific American, 4 Sept. 2018, www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-humans-a-microplastic-invasion-may-be-taking-a-toll/.

“What Are the Sources of Microplastics and Its Effect on Humans and the Environment?” Conserve Energy Future, 19 May 2018, www.conserve-energy-future.com/sources-effect-microplastics-humans-animals-environment.php.