Our environment is suffocating with the presence of several non-degradable materials. They continue to harm our terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Microplastics are non-biodegradable substances derived from plastic materials. These are small particles that come from Thermo Plastic Polyester, Polypropylene, Polyethene, Poluacyrlic, etc. They are less than five millimetres and cannot dissolve in water. In this article, we will discuss the effects of microplastics on the environment.
Microplastics can end up in marine sources and also in landfills. It takes more than a thousand years for these tiny particles to decompose. However, over time, they disintegrate into smaller particles known as nanoparticles. They are less than 0.1 micrometres. UV light and oxidation are two factors that help in the degradation of these plastic materials into smaller particles. However, they continue to affect our environment in different ways.
We can find microplastics in numerous resources around us. Landfills, construction sites, factories, household items, and medical applications contain high quantities of microparticles. We can also find them in smaller amounts in our personal care products like cosmetics, toothpaste, etc. We can spot microparticles in clothes, especially those made from Polyester, acrylic, and nylon. When we wash these clothes in a washing machine, the wastewater can have around 1900 fibres. These substances would reach our water bodies and can cause numerous environmental problems. In several other cases, microparticles end up in landfills as well.
Effects of Microparticles on the environment
Microparticles can harm our environment in different ways. It can have a long term impact on our soil, freshwater, food chain, sediments, and other life forms.
Microparticles can affect both abiotic and biotic components present in our environment. The main reason behind the increase in microparticles is that most of us are unaware of their environmental impacts. Here, we will discuss in detail the different ways in which microparticles affect our soil, plants, animals, food chain, and marine life.
Microparticles and their effect on soil
The impact of microparticles on soil can be grave. It can affect soil fauna and its survival. Microparticles can alter the soil-water dynamics of a region.
Most farmers use sewage sludge as fertilizer while farming to increase yield. However, many fail to realize that these substances contain high quantities of microparticles. They can adversely affect the soil in various ways. When there are microparticles in the ground, earthworms find it hard to survive. The absence of earthworms can decrease soil fertility. Apart from sewage sludge, several farmers also use plastic mulches. They are also harmful to the soil.
When the soil has microparticles like Polyester, Polythene, and Polyacrylic, they can reduce microbial activities. They can also affect soil carbon levels, soil bulk density, and nutrient cycle. Apart from that, they can remain in the soil for several thousand years, causing more problems for our environment.
Microparticles and their effect on plant life
As microparticles can affect the soil adversely, it can also harm plant life. Microparticles can alter soil structure and also increase the rate of evaporation. It can lead to soil dryness. With a lack of moisture in the soil, plants would fail to survive. They would eventually die.
Microparticles can reduce the mobility of nutrients in the soil. Due to this, plants fail to absorb the essential minerals required for their nourishment. Apart from water, mineral nutrients are other significant components that help plant growth. Lack of availability of nutrients can cause the plant to dry. Microparticles can also affect root symbionts. Along with that, microparticles can hinder algal photosynthesis.
Microparticles and their effect on animals
When animals consume microparticles, they can have a drastic impact on their health. Animals like mammals, birds, and reptiles are all at risk when considering the prevalence of microplastic in our environment.
Phthalates Bisphenol A or BPA is an additive that can drain into the soil as microparticles. When it enters the body of a vertebrate or a non-vertebrate, it can cause hormonal disruptions. With fish, it can cause behavioural changes.
With amphibians, microplastic can affect their reproductive system and also hinder their development. Microparticles can reduce ingestion in mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes. It can invade their guts, digestive glands, and alimentary canals too.
When it comes to us, microparticles can cause various types of cancer, weaken our immune and reproductive systems. It can also cause oxidation stress and inflammation. These are some of the many effects of microparticles on animal lives.
The food chain is an integral component, which helps different living beings around us to survive. However, several factors can cause the extinction of certain species of animals or plants. It can harm the food chain. When autotrophs like plants get influenced by microparticles, it can enter the food chain. It can affect different trophic levels of consumers. Consider a fish that consumes microparticles, mistaking it as food. When an animal, a bird, or a human being consumes the fish, s/he also absorbs these microparticles. In such a manner, these microparticles enter into the food chain. It can affect their health drastically. It is the simplest way of illustrating how microparticles can tamper with the food chain. In reality, it can affect several organisms of the same and different species simultaneously.
Microparticles and their effect on marine life
When micro-particles float in water, marine animals like fish might consume them. They might consider it as food particles. When they have these micro-particles, they can interfere with their immune gene expressions. It can also cause behavioural changes. These micro-particles can clog their stomachs and digestive tracts too. As mentioned above, they can enter our food chain and bring about drastic changes.
Microparticles are small particles of plastic that can create an adverse impact on our environment. Its effects can lead to the death and extinction of different microorganisms, plants, animals, etc. It is pertinent to create awareness and take necessary actions to reduce the usage of plastic substances.