Meet the microplastics and find out how we can beat ‘em
HOME & GARDEN | February 1, 2019

Meet the microplastics and find out how we can beat ‘em

Look around you. How many objects can you count that have plastic parts? Ten? You can do better than that! One hundred? Really? Thousands? That’s more like it… Plastic is so widely used, so integrated into our lives, we rarely notice how this material dominates our homes, workplaces and public spaces.

Look around again. Pick out one object. Imagine it’s no longer useful to us and we want rid. Easier said than done! Unless we can find a way to recycle it, over time, UV light from the sun will start to break the bonds holding the long plastic molecules of our object together. In this way, our solid piece of plastic gradually degrades into smaller pieces of plastic, and even smaller pieces of plastic, and so on and so on until our original object is in billions of microscopic plastic pieces.

Unfortunately, these invisible-to-the-naked-eye plastic particles aren’t merely annoying; they’re actively poisonous. The microplastics attract and absorb some of the worst chemicals polluting our environment, which can then end up in the things that we consume. Mmm, fancy a little DDT on your chips?

Illustration showing microplastics in sea salt

Illustration showing microplastics in drinking water

Remember, plastic is for keeps, whether we like it or not. Plastic persists.

Enough of the doom and gloom. What can we, personally, do to help the situation?

>> Repair and care for our stuff so it lasts longer

Gadget no longer working as well? Tool with a broken part? Search online for quick fixes, maintenance instructions, repair how-tos and spare parts sales before you think of buying new.

>> Reuse and recycle as much plastic as we can

Greenredeem members, log in and click the ‘Nearby Recycling’ tab on your for details of all the materials that can be recycled in your area.

>> Put pressure on manufacturers and sellers to use alternatives to plastic

Drop by, send a quick tweet or email your favourite shops and stalls and ask what they’re doing to actively reduce plastic waste. Uninspiring answer? Tell them you’ll be going elsewhere. Money talks!

>> Start a campaign to make your town plastic-free

Could your town join Penzance in pledging to phase out single use plastic at shops and other local businesses?

>> Stop buying goods made from or packaged in plastic

Yes, we know going plastic-free overnight isn’t realistic for most folks, yet even a few plastic-free choices will get you on your way. The kitchen is a great place to start.

>> Beware of ‘stealth’ microplastics

Not every source of plastic pollution is obvious. In fact, the worst culprits might be ones you’d never considered…

  • Car tyres – tyres are rubber and around 60% plastic. Every time we drive, nasty little pieces of tyre get scraped off onto the road surface, producing a horrible plastic dust that contributes to air pollution. Switch to cycling, public transport and walking whenever possible.

  • Synthetic clothing – acrylic, polyester, polyamide, spandex and nylon clothes shed hundreds of thousands of plastic microfibres with each wash and tumble dry. Switch to clothing made from natural fibres.

  • Chewing gum – did you know that chewing gum is mostly plastic filler? Switch to a natural gum brand, such as Glee Gum, or grab a pack of paper-wrapped mints instead.

  • Laundry detergents and dishwasher tablets – many conventional brands contain powdered plastic bulking agents along with microbead scrubbing agents, similar to those now banned in the UK for cosmetic use. Switch to eco-friendly brands with no unnecessary plastic additives.

  • Cigarette filters – tossed cigarette butts shed billions of minute plastic microfibres impregnated with smoke toxins. Switch to vaping or give up smoking for good!

  • Wet wipes – commonly strengthened with a plastic fibre mix, wet wipes not only block sewers and cause horrendous fatbergs, they’re also a source of microplastic fibres. Switch to reusable cotton cloths or paper tissues.

  • Glitter – the party might be over, but the plastic glitter isn’t going anywhere. Switch to eco-glitter made from eucalyptus trees.

  • Tea bags – most tea bag fabric is woven around a polypropylene plastic ‘skeleton’. Switch to a brand that uses plastic-free bags or start brewing your cuppas with loose leaf tea.

  • Takeaway tea and coffee cups – paper lined with a layer of polyethylene plastic, takeaway cups are notoriously hard to recycle. Switch to a refillable mug.

Are you reducing plastic use around the house? Inspire us and share your plans with Greenredeem on Facebook or Twitter.

>> 7 things you can do today to cut plastic waste in our seas

>> Could your town go plastic free like Penzance?