• Caterina Sullivan

Microplastics and How they Threaten the Achievement of the Global Goals



Microplastics are threatening the achievement of the Global Goals, and we need to take urgent action to limit, if not eliminate, our consumption of microplastics. In this article, we answer your top questions about microplastics.


What are microplastics?


Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic less than 5 millimetres in diameter. There are two types of microplastics. Primary microplastics are those found most commonly in some hygiene and beauty products such as toothpaste and face washes. Primary microplastics also include fibres which breakdown from man-made textiles such as polyester. Secondary microplastics are those which breakaway from larger plastics.


How prevalent are microplastics in our oceans?


Our oceans are filled with an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic. Over 10% of this is made up of microplastics.


An estimated 11 million metric tonnes of plastic is dumped in the oceans each year with this amount set to increase three-fold over the next 20 years.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the many garbage patches in our oceans around the world. There is an estimated 7 billion tonnes of plastic in this one area of the North Pacific Ocean. A large portion of this is made up of microplastics.


What effect do microplastics have on marine life?


Microplastics can be ingested by marine life and cause damage to their body that can result in severe illness or even death. From life as small as plankton to as large as whales, microplastics can be ingested by all marine life and cause damage to each organism.


Further more, other harmful chemicals can bind to microplastics causing further issues when ingested by marine life.


How does this impact Goal 14: Life Below Water?


Target 14.1 of the Global Goals aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution by 2025. The prevention of microplastics entering our waterways is one of the keys to achieving this target.


At our current consumption, we will not achieve Target 14.1 by 2030, let alone the specific target date of 2025.


Do we ingest microplastics?


The microplastics in our ocean also make their way into our drinking water. Unfortunately, there is no current way to effectively filter them out from drinking water at this stage, other than to limit our use of them in order to prevent them from ending up in our waterways in the first place.


We are also consuming microplastics when eating seafood. Microplastics have now been found in common fruits and vegetables too!


What is considered as safe amount of plastics in food?


At this stage, there is no scientific evidence on the harm caused by microplastics in our food. There has been studies which have suggested microplastics can be toxic to humans but nothing beyond that at this stage.


There have been public calls for this to be addressed in the hopes that those who are not as concerned about the environment at least have concerns for their own health and well-being, should it be found that these microplastics are harmful to humans.


How can we fix the issue microplastics are creating?


The best way to solve the issue around microplastics is to limit or completely stop our consumption of them. There are calls for microbeads to be banned completely from all products with a particular focus on products in the beauty and hygiene industries.


There are also calls for all washing machines to contain filters to prevent the capture broken-down microplastics before they travel into our water system. Currently, there are products that can be bought which can be put in the washing machine and can capture these microplastics.


When it comes to secondary microplastics, we also need to be aware of our consumption of larger plastics, especially single-use plastics and avoid these at all costs where possible.


We would love to hear your thoughts on the consumption of plastics. Get in touch with us to let us know what you think! What are some ways we could tackle the microplastics crisis?