An international study of airborne plastic particles released today has found that microplastic pollution is now spiralling around the globe, resulting in the “plastification” of the planet.
It calls plastic pollution one of the most pressing environmental issues of the 21st century. The study found that billions of tonnes of plastic discarded into the oceans and land is being broken down into microplastics and thrown back into the air by road traffic and winds over seas and farmland.
Dr Mark Browne from UNSW Sydney’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences is available to comment on the study.
Dr Browne completed the world’s first PhD on microplastic and since then, some of his findings have shown:
· Shores in Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and South America are contaminated with microplastic, with more material in densely populated areas.
· The source is sewage, wind and stormwater contaminated by synthetic fibres from wearing and washing clothes.
· Washing a single garment adds millions of fibres to wastewater, and using facial scrubbers can add millions of granules of microplastic to wastewater.
· In estuarine habitats, the quantity of microplastics can be nearly twice that of larger plastic debris, yet it is a contaminant that has been largely ignored.
· Animals ingesting microplastics transfer pollutants and additives into tissues, compromising ecophysiological functions that sustain health and biodiversity.
To combat the problems of microplastic, Dr Browne developed the Benign by Design programme which works with industry and government to determine how to reduce emissions of toxic debris from consumer products such as clothing, packaging and exfoliants.