Microplastics are definitely a big problem and can cause illnesses that require serious treatment. Plastic is a basic raw material in today’s world. Since its invention in 1930, plastics have been used everywhere in the production of everyday products. Part of the problem stems from the fact that determining the exact source of microplastics can be difficult due to their relatively fragmented structure, small size, and wide range of potential resources.
Microplastics have become a concern reflected by sites with unusually high concentrations and a threat to the environment with the possibility of even higher concentrations in the future. As a result, the use and subsequent release of microplastics as part of a global initiative must be greatly reduced, even before research studies outlining these long-term risks are in place.
Microplastic particles (MPPs) have become a global problem as they are added to products used almost every day. MPPs can be found in a range of cosmetic and personal care products, including washing liquids, soaps, face and body scrubs, toothpaste, and lotions. One of the primary problems is the disposal of microplastics found in cosmetics and personal products at household expenses without any precautionary recycling measures.
Disposed MPPs and other types of plastic debris end up in municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) due to the durability and frequent use of synthetic polymers. Recently published research reports point to WWTPs as possible sources of microplastics polluting water systems. On the other hand, researchers have not been able to definitively confirm the relationship between WWTPs and microplastic pollution found in rivers. There is an ongoing debate as to whether discharged wastewater contributes significantly to the accumulation of microplastics, there is a lack of certainty as to how such pollutants operate during the shipping processes of wastewater treatment plants.
Both environmental scientists and plant design engineers will benefit from an in-depth understanding of microplastics accumulation during transport and wastewater treatment processes. A comprehensive study can help improve and expand existing treatment plant processes to deal with and eliminate this type of contaminant. The exact origin of microplastics is difficult to determine due to their fragmented nature, small size and variable resources. However, the disposal of plastics in the immediate environment must be addressed in a global initiative even before full environmental risk assessment.
Specifically, the presence of microplastics in the environment, MMPs with extremely high concentrations in certain regions, and the certainty that these concentrations will continue to increase are sufficient justification for a global effort. The basic sources of microplastics should be questioned and analyzed with some methodologies to assess their capacity to problematize water resources in urban environments, as well as to determine their impact on the environment. The presence of microplastics in the environment, MMPs with extremely high concentrations in certain regions, and the certainty that these concentrations will continue to increase are sufficient justification for a global effort.
The presence of microplastics in the environment, MMPs with extremely high concentrations in certain regions, and the certainty that these concentrations will continue to increase are sufficient justification for a global effort.
Origin and Characterization of Microplastics
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the US Department of Commerce, plastic is the most common type of marine debris found in the ocean and the Great Lakes (Ocean). Its presence in aquatic environments, including beaches, ocean surface waters, deep sea sediments, freshwater lakes and tributaries, has been explored in recent decades. It is a result of the increased production of plastic materials and the many gaps in their proper disposal; it has become a global problem.
According to the literature, the amount of plastic entering the ocean has been increasing very rapidly over the years. Currently, between 0.48 and 1.27 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean each year, and this number is expected to double in the next 10 years. These materials are suitable for many industrial applications due to the presence of stable carbon-hydrogen bonds, but they also make them resistant to degradation in the environment and therefore tend to accumulate over time.
There is not much consensus among authors on the definition of microplastics, but they can generally be referred to as synthetic organic polymer particles of less than 5mm in size. Many published studies refer to microplastics as plastic particles or inclusions shorter than 5mm, but there is no consensus on the lower limit. Some researchers adopt it as a 0.5 or 1mm boundary between macro or meso plastic and micro plastic.
Most of the published data refer to plastic particles ranging from 1 to 5 mm. Researchers Ballent et al. three categories of microplastics were considered: fibers, parts, and spherical bearings. Common plastic polymers include polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), and polyacrylates. Many studies have been conducted investigating the presence of plastic materials in different water environments. However, some have focused on microbeads, which are primary microplastics of spherical shape.
These are mostly used in health and personal care products, and others work on a wider range of materials classified as microplastics, including primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics refer to microparticles produced at the aforementioned scale, and secondary microplastics are products of the degradation of larger plastic material than either mechanical or photooxidative means. Lack of standardization causes difficulties in comparing results and discussing possible solutions for this environmental problem.
It covers particles used in primary microplastics, facial cleansers and personal care products for exfoliating purposes such as moisturizers, shampoos, cosmetics and shaving products. Most of the microbeads in these products consist of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) and are used for emulsion stabilization, viscosity regulation and skin care. After use, these products are washed down the sewer and the microplastics are transported via the waste waterway to municipal wastewater treatment plants, where they can eventually reach the environment. Primary microplastics also include industrial abrasives or “cleaners” used to clean surfaces, plastic powders used in modeling, particles used in drilling fluids for oil and gas exploration, and also raw materials used for plastic manufacturing in many industrial applications.
As secondary microplastics are produced to break down larger plastic materials, there are many sources that can contribute to their presence in the environment. According to the study by Duis and Corrs, 75–90% of the plastic in the aquatic environment comes from land-based sources and 10–25% from ocean-based sources. Regarding land-based resources, they assumed that the most important route for secondary microplastics to the environment was the loss from improper management of landfills and waste collection. There are also ways to deal with the actions of natural events (such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and the mighty sea), agricultural activities, the use of synthetic textiles, and other different human activities.
In 2014, Desforges et al documented the abundance, composition and distribution of microplastics in the northeast Pacific Ocean and off the coast of British Columbia. Considering the fibers and their fragments, a concentration range 3, ranging from 8 to 9200 particles per m was observed. Lower concentrations were observed in offshore Pacific waters, and higher concentrations were noted near the shore, with the widespread presence of fiber. According to this research, materials found near urban areas likely come from land-based sources. In certain areas, the material has been found to consist of debris trapped and concentrated by natural ocean activity.
A recent study by Ballent and colleagues investigated the presence of microplastics on the Canadian Lake Ontario coastline and evaluated the abundance and distribution pattern in three accumulation zones: near shore, side and beaches. The effect of microplastic pollution on benthic ecosystems and its effect on the food chain has also been analyzed.
Lake Ontario and St. Sampling sites by sedimentation environment and instrument type where microplastics in sediments in the Lawrence River are analyzed. The basin boundaries are directly connected to Lake Ontario and St. It shows the regions flowing into the Lawrence River. In this particular study, the material was counted and divided into three categories: fibers, chunks, and spherical beads. It has been shown that many factors are determinant in the distribution of microplastics. This aquatic environment is characterized by highly urbanized and industrialized areas, the morphology of the coastlines, variations in topography, etc. It contains the fact that it is surrounded. In addition, the density and shape of microplastic particles can also affect dispersion patterns in Lake Ontario, according to the researchers.
Although the polymers from which microplastics are made (such as PE and PP) have lower density than water, the material was found in the sediment and can be attributed to the increase in the net density of microplastic particles with biofouling, adsorption. Natural materials on the surface, inorganic fillers and fecal express during manufacturing. Regarding the shape of the material collected from Lake Ontario, it was found that there was more fiber in the sediments and more microbeads in the surface water.
Writer: Ozlem Guvenc Agaoglu