Microplastics in the Air: A Troubling Reality

Public awareness of the damaging effects of plastics on the environment, particularly single-use plastics like bottles, bags, and straws, is growing, thanks to the increasing prevalence of published studies and news articles on the subject. Images of plastic trash in the ocean, harming the habitats and health of marine life and sea birds, have become pervasive, making the ecological impact of plastic increasingly difficult to ignore. Compelling as these images and media stories are, the full story of the impact of plastic on our world is still unfolding. The latest findings hit very close to home: invisible particles of plastic waste could exist in the very air we breathe.

Microplastics, or the smaller-than-the-eye-can-see particles that remain after plastic waste degrades over time, have already been detected in staggering quantities in the seas and waterways of our planet. Recently scientists have begun analyzing the skies to determine if microplastics might be an atmospheric pollutant. According to a recent National Geographic article, scientists recently discovered microplastic particles floating in the air in the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France, even with no source for microplastics anywhere within a 60-mile radius of the area analyzed. The same article cites how other studies of city air have detected microplastics mingling both indoors and outdoors.

What impact does the presence of microplastic particles in the air have on human health?

As of yet the health effects have yet to be determined; however, it is known that substances as small as microplastics (on average about 25 microns in diameter; by comparison the human hair is between 50 and 70 microns) can be breathed into the human body. Considering the health dangers other air pollutants pose, and in light of the fact that the sticky nature of microplastics means they can attract and introduce other known pollutants and metals into the human body, the presence of microplastics in the atmosphere is cause for concern and further study. The prospect of the existence of nanoplastic particles—the even-tinier byproducts of degrading plastic waste with their own unique set of physical and chemical properties—only intensifies the seriousness of the presence of plastic particulates in the air we breathe.

The Urgency to Reduce Plastic: Paper Straws Are the Answer

The disturbing news of the presence of microplastics in the environment is made all the more so by the likelihood that these plastic particles in the air will only increase in volume if plastics continue to be produced at high rates and used in an ever-growing number of products. What is needed is for the opposite to occur: fewer plastics need to be produced overall, and single-use plastics need to be eliminated entirely. Plastic straws alone are used at an astonishing rate in the United States (half a billion are used and discarded daily) and even those that manage to be recycled still eventually break down into microplastics. The need for safe alternatives to single-use plastics is more imperative than ever. The good news is that products like Green Planet Straws already exist, ready for the ushering in of a new, and necessary, low-plastic age.