Do you remember the last time you went a day without using plastic? No. The extent to which we are dependent on plastic is such that we can no more imagine a day without it let alone a lifetime. However, the overuse of plastic is posing a huge threat to all life on the planet including plants and animals. Most of the plastic that we discard every day ends up in landfills and a very little of it is recycled or incinerated. Data suggests that on an average a plastic bag is used only for 12 to 13 minutes before being discarded. The plastic in landfills can take over 1,000 years to decompose and releases toxins into water and soil.
Microplastics are entering the food chain.
Research in Germany has suggested that microplastics in the soil, sediments, and water may have a long-term negative impact on the ecosystem. It was concluded that the presence of fragments of plastic in soil and water can trigger adverse effects not only on the health of humans but also on that of all flora and fauna. The research also asserted that nearly 33% of all the plastic ends up in landfills and freshwater.
A major portion of this discarded plastic breaks down into particles smaller than 5mm and are known as microplastics. Microplastics further break down into particles of a size smaller than 0.1 micrometers and are called nanoparticles. Due to such small size of these particles, they are entering the food chain.
Sewage is an important factor in havoc wreaked by microplastics.
The havoc wreaked by microplastics has a lot to do with sewage as it is a primary distributor these fine plastic particles. It is found that nearly 80% of the plastic particles from the garment fibers and other waste in sewage stays in the sludge. The sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in the fields and therefore, a huge amount of microplastics end up in the soil every year. The situation is such that these particles can also be found in tap water.
Microplastics also carry disease-causing organisms and therefore, adversely affect the health of soil fauna and ultimately, the soil function.
Microplastics in water.
It might come as a surprise but the main source of plastic pollution in water is our clothing. Thin fibers of nylon, spandex, acrylic, and polyester shed every time clothes are washed. These minute particles get carried away with water and end up in soil through discharged water. A recent study has suggested that as many as 700,000 microplastics are released into the environment with every cycle of a washing machine. The figures for handwashing have not been studied but it is estimated that effects there might also be very significant.
Soil pollution caused by plastic also affects the quality of the groundwater and further, harms the ecosystem. This has potentially adverse effects on all life that depends on water for survival.
When plastic breaks down into finer particles, it gains new physical and chemical properties that make it more toxic. The additives like BPA and phthalates leach out of plastic in the decomposition stage. These two chemical are known for causing hormonal disruption in human and animals alike. The effect is such that they can alter the genes.
It is, therefore, increasingly being recommended that we should opt for the plastic-free lifestyle to lead a healthy life. Cutting down plastic will not only improve our health but also help in restoring the ecological balance.