Microplastics are everywhere – in the sea, in the air, in cosmetic products. The small plastic particles have become an integral part of our environment. According to scientists and researchers, there are virtually no more plastic-free areas on earth. Especially in the food sector, microplastics are omnipresent, e.g. in plastic bottles, coffee-to-go cups or as fruits and vegetables shrink-wrapped in plastic. Often, packaging and plastic bags end up in the oceans via the rivers and thus endanger marine animals and birds. These developments are a cause for concern, because the predicted growth in plastics production will mean that the quantities of plastics in the environment will continue to increase in the future. The limits of ecological self-cleaning have long been exceeded, so there is an urgent need for action.
What exactly are microplastics?
Microplastics are pieces of plastic which are smaller than 5 mm. They are therefore sometimes difficult to see with the naked eye. There are two types of microplastics: So-called primary microplastics include basic pellets, which are the basic material for plastic production; granules in cosmetics and hygiene products, such as peelings, toothpaste, hand washing products; microscopic particles, which are used in cleaning jets, for example in shipyards, or in medicine as a vector for active ingredients of drugs. Secondary microplastics are created by physical, biological and chemical degradation of macroplastic parts.
The 10 largest microplastic sources
In a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT, a total of 74 different sources were identified that release primary microplastics. „Naturschutzbund Deutschland“ has defined the ten most important sources (quantities released per person per year) for microplastics:
Abrasion bitumen in asphalt
Release by waste disposal
Drifting of sports and playgrounds
Release on construction sites
Abrasion shoe soles
Abrasion plastic packaging
Abrasion road markings
Fiber abrasion during textile washing
Microplastics are part of our nutrition
By ingesting water, food and breathing air, we consume up to 5 grams of microplastics per week – this is roughly the weight of a credit card. The amount of intake depends on the place of residence, living conditions and diet. For example, the proportion of microplastics in drinking water is significantly higher in the USA and India than in Europe. It is questionable what exactly microplastics do to our body and whether it is harmful to our health. According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), there is no scientific evidence to date that microplastics actually makes people ill. According to the current state of knowledge, human health is therefore not endangered by microplastics, but negative effects cannot be excluded by the BfR. For example, it is still unclear whether and what effect tiny particles of plastic, so-called nanoplastics, have when we take them in. Until sufficient data for more concrete analyses are available, the precautionary principle applies: reduce microplastics by producing and using less plastic.
Microplastics in fish
An estimated 4.8 million tons of plastic waste land in the sea every year. This is taken up by fish and other sea dwellers who consume the plastic as supposed food. Most plastic has been found in the digestive tract of the consumer fish species cod, mackerel, flounder and whiting. However, since the digestive tract of fish is rarely eaten, the risks of microplastics in fish can be considered low for consumers based on current knowledge. Whether microplastics can enter the muscle tissue of the fish and reach our plate with the fillet is currently being intensively investigated worldwide. So far, however, no positive findings are known.
Tips for reducing microplastics
In order to reduce microplastics in the long term, the support of each individual is required. In concrete terms, this means that by rethinking your everyday life, you can change a lot. This includes, for example, replacing unnecessary plastic dishes, disposable bottles & Co. with durable materials, e.g. wood, glass, fabric or metal. Our high-quality drinking water in Germany also allows us to simply consume tap water instead of water in plastic bottles. Even when shopping in the supermarket, even small changes can make a difference, because on average, every German uses 76 plastic bags per year! This amount can be reduced quite simply by switching to cloth bags or baskets. But not only plastic bags but also food packaging causes a lot of plastic. That is why in many cities there are already so-called „unpacked“ stores where you can fill the goods into containers you have brought yourself. In addition, one should pay attention when buying food to buy regional products which have a clearly better ecological balance. When buying cosmetics, one should ideally also make sure that no artificial polymers are added and preferably use natural cosmetics. Also, cosmetics are to be bought meanwhile in many „unpackaged“ stores. For many people, „To Go“ coffee is part of their daily routine on the way to work. When one considers that more than 100 million tons of plastic are produced annually for exactly these products, which are used for less than five minutes, this is highly alarming. By omitting the plastic lid or using a thermo-cup, a large part of this amount could be significantly reduced. In the home, recycling can make a difference by separating plastic waste from other materials so that it can be reused. If you want to do something useful in your free time, you can take part in garbage-cleaning campaigns and thus prevent plastic waste from being discharged into the oceans via rivers.
Which specific contribution does SEAWATER make?
More and more companies are putting sustainability and environmental protection on their agenda and are adapting some processes and actions accordingly. SEAWATER, however, has sustainability in its DNA. We founded our start-up out of the conviction that our sustainable concept will shape the fish farming of the future. In addition to the contribution of our recycling concept to the conservation of resources and short transport routes, we are also actively addressing the topic of microplastics. On the one hand, with land-based fish farming that is decoupled from the environment, we completely avoid harmful plastic particles getting into the oceans. On the other hand, our customers can also be sure that our fish do not show any traces of microplastics inside, as our plant water is completely free of plastic bottles and old fishing nets. We also try to use as plastic-free alternatives as possible for the logistics processes after purchase – although this is not so easy with a fresh product like fish. The customer gets all our sea bass wrapped in biodegradable wax paper. For shipping, we are currently testing various solutions without plastic.
The reduction of microplastics is urgently needed for a future worth living. We are convinced that everyone can already make an important contribution to protecting our wonderful earth by making a small contribution and rethinking their everyday lives.
— Picture source: SEAWATER Cubes