For decades, plastics have become a part of our everyday lives. With this has come a new threat to the environment and human health on a global scale: microplastics. Microplastics can be intentionally produced, or they can result from the breakdown of larger plastic items. Regardless of their origin, they’re now everywhere. Researchers have found microplastics on the highest mountains and in the deepest parts of the ocean. They’re basically all around us.
Because microplastics are so small and widespread, they can be ingested by humans and other organisms and can enter our bodies through inhalation and even absorption through the skin. The primary routes of exposure are inhaling airborne particles and consuming contaminated food. Microplastics have been found in human waste, lungs, placenta, and even in our blood. However, our understanding of their potential health effects and how they behave in the environment is still very new. Researchers are actively studying this topic and learning more every day. Even the techniques for collecting and analyzing these tiny particles are still evolving.
There are two main sources of microplastics: primary and secondary. Primary microplastics come from facilities that produce them or from manufacturing processes where they’re used in products. Secondary microplastics are created when larger plastic items break down physically, chemically, or biologically. This degradation process is a major contributor to the accumulation of microplastics in the environment. Other sources include activities like washing synthetic fabrics or the wear and tear of tires on the road.
What does this mean for the Yuba?
Basically, as microplastics are ubiquitous in our environment, we can say with a high degree of certainty that microplastics can be found throughout the watershed. You can help limit their presence in the watershed by packing out all of your trash with you – dog waste bags, pool floats, plastic bags, twist ties, plastic bottles, and all other plastics rapidly break down in the intense sun throughout the summer and, when winter rains come, more microplastics are introduced into our watershed and washed to communities downstream. SYRCL’s Watershed Science team is actively pursuing new means of testing and analysis of microplastics in the Yuba and will be reporting our findings when we have them.
What more can you do?
Use less plastic. This month is Plastic Free July — “a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution”. Head on over to the Plastic Free July website for a wealth of information about what you can do to reduce your plastic impact on the planet and help address the microplastics crisis.
Produced by Plastic Cup, the following manual is provided help to everyone – professionals and enthusiasts alike – eager to participate in efforts to manage international plastic pollution in rivers. The manual is based on scientific publications on riverine- and marine litter in addition to Plastic Cup’s 10+ years of field experience gained on the rivers of the Eastern Danube River Basin. In their findings, they point to a growing agreement in the scientific community that cleanup interventions can mitigate the damaging effects of plastic pollution.
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