Since its widespread commercialization in the early 1950s, plastic has become ubiquitous: first in products and their packaging, and now everywhere on Earth.
406 million tonnes of plastic were made in 2015 – a figure growing by roughly 5% annually. At least 11 billion tonnes of plastic are likely to be loose in the environment by 2025.
“Microplastics are everywhere,” notes Danish environmental scientist Alvise Vianello. “No place is safe from plastic pollution,” observes American environmental scientist Janice Brahney. “Because plastics are persistent, they fragment into pieces that are susceptible to wind entrainment,” continues Brahney. “Microplastics can reach and affect remote, sparsely inhabited areas through atmospheric transport,” reports French ecologist Deonie Allen.
Microplastics are blown everyplace. They eventually rain down. A survey of US national parks found microplastics suffused the environment, with microfibers being the most prevalent form: comprising 2/3rds of the plastics in the soil. These soil plastics stress plants and lessen their growth.
A 2019 study found that 11 microplastic particles were inhaled per hour in an urban Danish apartment that had the windows closed.
Everyone is eating, even breathing in plastic – but nothing is being done to staunch the pollution.
Janice Brahney et al, “Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States,” Science (12 June 2020).
Valerie Yurk, “Revealed: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics rain down on US parks and wilderness,” The Guardian (11 June 2020).
Ishi Nobu, “Plastic pollution,” in The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).
Anderson Abel de Souza Machado et al, “Microplastics can change soil properties and affect plant performance,” Environmental Science & Technology (25 April 2019).
Alvise Vianello et al, “Simulating human exposure to indoor airborne microplastics using a breathing thermal manikin,” Scientific Reports (17 June 2019).