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After alarming reports of microplastic pollution in oceans and beaches, the global scientific community intensified its focus into this area. Researchers have since found evidence of microplastic contamination everywhere—in our lakes and rivers, beverages and food supplies. Dr. Natalia Ivleva, a researcher with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), has developed new analytical methods for the identification and quantification of microplastic. In this interview, she shares her latest findings.
What exactly is microplastic?
Definitions - Piece - Plastic - Millimeters - Size
According to current definitions, microplastic is any piece of plastic measuring five millimeters in size down to one micrometer, that is one-thousandth of a millimeter. Plastic particles that are smaller—from one micrometer down to 100 nanometers—are defined as sub-microplastic. Particles below 100 nm are called nanoplastic. Studies show, that most of the plastic particles possess sizes in lower micrometer range.
Both microplastics and nanoplastics are usually formed by the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic—for example, from shopping bags to the wear and tear on a car's tires or when we wash an article of microfiber clothing. And since some manufacturers are still adding microplastics to personal care products like toothpaste and scrubs—they are a source of microplastic pollution, too.
Why do we need to be worried about microplastic pollution?
Actually, it's not yet totally clear just how dangerous microplastics are for living organisms. What is known: aquatic organisms and other species, including humans, can absorb microplastic particles. But that alone doesn't prove toxicity. However, we have also ascertained that smaller-sized particles might have the ability to be absorbed in certain types of body tissue in aquatic organisms.
Year - Humans - Tons - Worldwide - Proportion
Each year, humans produce around 400 million tons of plastic worldwide. A significant proportion of this plastic ends up in the environment as litter, and most types of plastic take several hundred years to completely degrade.
The result? Over the next few decades, we will probably...
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