A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the sewage system. Micro-plastics are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters (mm) in diameter, and often come in the form of microbeads, up to 680 tonnes.
A plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic that have been washed into the sea, researchers working on Micro-plastics has found.
Tiny plastic micro-beads used in toothpaste, shampoos, exfoliating scrubs and washing powder should be banned because of fears they are harming the environment and could enter the food chain.
Although micro-beads are a significant and avoidable part of the problem, the wider issue of microplastic pollution can not be set aside once micro-beads have been dealt with, the report found. Microbeads are also thought to be more risky that conventional plastic as they present a greater surface area for toxins and chemicals to bind on to.
Despite their small size, the beads are still able to absorb chemical pollutants. If the European Union does not take action then the government has said that it will think about the ban on tiny plastic microbeads. Though cosmetic companies have said that they will voluntarily phase out plastic microbeads, it would not solve the problem and there is a need to have a complete ban. The best way to reduce this pollution is to prevent plastic being flushed into the sea in the first place.
The US banned the use of microplastics in cosmetic products in December previous year. The report, which was released recently, found that microplastic pollution was potentially more environmentally damaging than larger pieces of plastic because it is more likely to be eaten by animals and fishes.
In waterways, over 250 species of marine animals mistake the tiny scraps of plastic for food, according to a 2013 study.
Aquatic animals that feed on these plastic pieces may suffer from health problems, stop eating or even die of starvation when the microbeads get lodged in their stomach or intestines.
One fish eats another, and as the food chain moves up all the way to dinner tables, humans are eventually the ones eating the microplastics. Ideally, any legislation to control them should be on an global level.
Cosmetics companies have promised to stop using them by 2020, but a committee with the British parliament wants a full legal ban now. The committee argues pollution is an international issue.
The report concludes there is “little evidence on potential human health impacts of microplastic pollution”, but further research is “clearly required”. The research was done team led by Professor Tamara Galloway, from the University of Exeter.
EAC recommendations in the report include the formation of a research strategy to assess and mitigate microplastic pollution and the investigation of the human impacts of such pollution. They are also present in remote locations including deep sea sediments and arctic sea ice. Abrasion of car tires is actually the biggest source of microplastic pollution in oceans. Cosmetics represent, at most, 4 percent of the microplastic pollutants, but some officials argue a ban in that industry would show a commitment to the issue as a whole. The call for a United Kingdom ban is a very welcome step in the right direction.