Microplastics: a problem of the present and the future

The overproduction of plastic and its direct consequences, such as the excessive waste production and the waste management, are one of the most urgent challenges we face as humans.

For decades we have been aware of the problems caused by plastic pollution, but only in recent years we have begun to be conscious of another great challenge: microplastics.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, smaller than 5 millimeters. These are classified into primary microplastics and secondary microplastics according to their nature.

Those that have been expressly created with that size are known as primary microplastics. These microplastics are present in a daily basis: from hygiene products such as toothpastes and soaps, to detergents or clothes. On the other hand, microplastics that come from the degradation and breakage of larger fragments, which are also much more common, are called secondary microplastics.

Microplastics in cosmetic products. © Fred Dott / Greenpeace

The problem with microplastics

We might think that microparticles generate microproblems, but this is not the case. In recent years, different studies and environmental organizations have warned of the great danger posed by these microparticles -both for our ecosystem and for our health.

To get an idea of the problem, WEForum estimates that more than 10 million tons of plastics are dumped into our seas and oceans each year. In addition to the huge amount of plastics produced, there is a problem with the high concentration of waste they generate, which ends up at the bottom of the ocean or swirling in water currents. Besides, the time it takes to degrade it should be also be taken into account: a single plastic bottle takes about 450 years to completely disappear, according to the US National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

How microplastics affect our health

The other great problem of microplastics is a direct consequence of this waste generation and answers the question “where does microplastics go?”. Well, these microplastics enter the food chain and end up in the food we consume daily. And this brings with it a series of problems that are difficult to solve, ranging from eating and reproductive disorders to alterations in metabolism or changes in liver physiology.

WWF figures the amount of microplastics that a human ingests per week: 5 grams, the equivalent of a credit card. For its part, a study conducted by European scientists found microplastics in human placentas and warned of the serious complications that this type of microparticles can pose for pregnancy.

Plastic paints: a source of microplastics

Plastic paints are listed as the second largest source of microplastic pollution in the oceans, according to the Norwegian Environment Agency. The IUCN, for its part, estimates that more than 60,000 tons of plastic coatings end up in the ocean every year and warns that 1% of the paint applied peels off every year – a figure that increases with industrial and marine coatings (up to 5%).

Annual emissions of microplastics by sector and nature (Eunomia, ICF, 2018).

The graph above shows how three types of plastic paints – road, construction and marine – are included among the nine most polluting sectors in terms of microplastic generation.

Graphenstone, an alternative to microplastics

There is no greater measure against the increase of microplastics than avoiding their consumption. Graphenstone, as the world’s most certified green paint brand, promotes circular economies and respect for the environment by producing paints free of microplastics and other toxic substances.

Graphenstone paints, instead of being plastic-based, combine artisanal lime -a traditional pigmentation method- and graphene technology to create a green product of the highest quality: an alternative to microplastics to decorate rooms in a healthier way. For the people and the environment.

Measures against microplastics

To tackle the problem, Greenpeace proposes the promotion of measures based on the circular economy: reduction, reuse and recycling; actions aligned with “Objective 14: Life Below Water” of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In July 2018, only 8 countries in the world had established limitations on this type of microparticles through national laws or regulations. These were Canada, the United States, France, Italy, New Zealand, Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Four other countries – Belgium, Brazil, India and Ireland – had proposed new laws banning microparticles at a national level.

However, it will not be until this year, 2021, that the European Union, through the European Chemicals Agency, presents its Waste Law. This new law will seek to reduce the waste generated in Europe, banning products with intentionally-added microplastics.

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