Plastic is a versatile, durable, lightweight, important man-made substance used frequently in our everyday lives. However, when released into the environment, plastic and plastic particles persist until they are removed, and can cause great harm in the meanwhile.
Whether designed to be used for a few minutes (plastic straw), several days (water bottle) or many years (fishing gear), plastic can break down over time due to abrasion or UV degradation, creating microplastic particles.
Microplastics are small (<5mm) particles of plastic that have broken down from larger pieces of plastic, or which have been designed to be small (such as microbeads in facial scrubs). It is estimated that between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s ocean each year,* and that figure continues to grow as plastic is continually produced. Scientists estimate the ocean holds more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic between the surface and bottom, but research still needs to be conducted to determine how much of this plastic is ingested by marine life.
*Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean
Science 13 Feb 2015
Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771