미래가치를 창출하는 글로컬 산학일체 혁신대학
Microplastics Attack Humans
By Kim Do-won Cub Reporter, Junior of English Language and Literature
Modern people have high a level of dependence on plastics as if they cannot live without using plastic things. However, if these plastics threaten human beings by changing into an invisible poison, can we keep accepting its use?
These days, the concern about microplastics, which is plastic that has divided into lots of small pieces, is increasing rapidly. We can see many campaigns to reduce microplastics on the streets and in the news. Why have microplastics become an object of campaign? Why do microplastics have people’s interest like this?
What are Microplastics?
Microplastics are small plastic pieces under 5mm. Microplastics are classified as primary microplastic and secondary microplastic. Primary microplastics were produced separately from the beginning. Secondary microplastics are made when things that were large plastic products disintegrate. We can see these microplastics easily in our daily life. Microplastics exist in many plastic products and cosmetics that we use, especially as minute scrubs in foam cleansing products. In these products, they are called Microbeads and they are a primary microplastic under 1mm. Recently, they have been considered a cause of marine pollution.
Microplastics flow to the sea because their particles are too small to filter during water treatment processing. When they glitter in the sea, reflecting the sunshine, seabirds mistake them for fish eggs and eat them. Fish also take them in with water during breathing. Finally, they die because of a visceral cleft which is a tear of the internal organs. Microplastics bring grave danger and problems to the ecosystem.
Microplastics are also found in cloth which is made up of synthetic textiles (fabrics). During the process of drying clothes made from synthetic textiles, microscopic fibers are divided from the cloth. These flow to the sea through the sewer. They cause the same problems by accumulating in creature’s internal organs.
Bail to Risk
Microplastics cause lots of problems, such as destroying the ecosystem. The Environmental Pollution Prevention Center in China conducted animal experiments related to microplastics. The experiments concluded that microplastics accumulate in the liver, kidneys, and intestines, increasing oxidative stress. Oxidation stress is caused by the loss of balance between the oxidizing substance in the body and the corresponding antioxidant, resulting in higher oxidation rates. In humans, increased oxidative stress causes protein damage and diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. It also confirmed that increased levels of microplastics can be greatly toxic to the brain. However, these experiments have a limitation in that the target was an animal. In fact, this is the biggest reason scientists are wary of microplastics. They say they don't know exactly what microplastics do to humans yet.
According to the "Ocean Pollution Fact Sheet" released by the United Nations in 2017, more than eight million tons of plastic are introduced into the sea every year. It is also said that there are currently about 51 trillion microplastic pieces in the ocean. In addition, regarding a recent study, modern people take in an increasing number of microplastics every week.
On August 14, the BBC reported that scientists also found more than 10,000 microplastic particles per liter of snow in the Arctic. Microplastics, which used to be found only in the ocean, are now being evaporated into the air and then are dropped with the snow. This is proof that the air, soil, and sea on Earth are now polluted by microplastics, affecting the whole ecosystem.
As time goes by, microplastics will pile up all over the earth and in our bodies. However, it is still not clear exactly what the risks of microplastics are to mankind. Microplastics are like a time bomb that is not exploded yet.
A solution that can stop the pollution
The whole world struggles to escape the danger of microplastics. States in the U.S. have declared a ban on Microbeads in succession in 2015. Since 2017, the U.S. administration has pushed for a water pollution prevention law that would ban the use of microbeads in all washing products. International corporations that produce cleaning products, such as Johnson & Johnson, also rushed to declare a stop to producing products with Microbeads. In Germany, a system that provides a deposit refund for returning empty bottles to stores has raised the recycling rate to 95 percent. In addition, the number of times plastic can be recycled has reached 40 to 50 times, which is a huge effect on reducing plastic waste. Biodegradable plastics that can be completely decomposed by microbes in nature also provide a fundamental solution to the problem of microplastics contamination.
However, these systems, campaigns, and technologies have no effect if they are not implemented by consumers in real life. There are already many campaigns that can be conducted in real life, such as using tumblers and reducing the use of plastic straws. If you look around a little and take small actions, they can be a great help to save the earth.