From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Microplastics
Mains level : Reach of plastic pollutants to Polar region
- Tiny particles of plastic, known as microplastics, have been found in the Arctic region and the Alps, carried by the wind, according to a new study that was widely reported this week.
- The study called for an urgent assessment of the risk of inhalation of the microplastics.
What are Microplastics?
- Microplastics are defined as shreds of plastic less than 5 mm in length.
- Microplastics are either manufactured — for instance, microbeads that are used in cosmetics and beauty products — or they are formed when larger pieces of plastic break down.
- The small, shiny particles advertised as “cooling crystals” in certain toothpastes qualify as microplastics if the ingredients of the toothpaste mention “polyethylene”.
- Even so, manufactured microbeads are not a major contributor to microplastic pollution.
- One of the main contributors to this pollution, instead, is plastic waste, 90% of which is not recycled.
- Plastic bottles, bags, fishing nets, and food packaging are some examples of the larger pieces that break down into microplastics, eventually finding their way into the soil, water and the air we breathe.
- The researchers found huge amounts of them in the Arctic snow; their study claims to be the first that contains data on contamination of snow by microplastics.
- Several other recent studies have established the presence of microplastics in groundwater in the United States, and in the lakes and rivers of the United Kingdom.
- A study published in June estimated that the average human ends up consuming at least 50,000 particles of microplastics in food every year.
Action by countries
- In the recent past, several countries have passed laws to limit the amount of microplastics in the environment.
- The US passed a law in 2015 to prohibit the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetic products containing plastic microbeads.