Marine microplastics spell big problems for future generations

There are certain human environmental perturbations so major that they are capable of destabilizing the earth’s normal function at a global scale (1). These so-called planetary boundary threats include climate change, ozone depletion, and ocean acidification. Emerging as a novel addition to this list is the vast quantity of discarded plastic waste that is accumulating in the oceans on an unprecedented scale, where it breaks down to form microscopic and nanoscopic fragments, or microplastics. Microplastics (particles with a diameter <1 mm, with no lower limit) derive from progressive fragmentation of larger plastic items, or may be manufactured to be of a small size, for use in personal care products, medicines, and industry (2). They reach the seas through beach littering, road runoff, sewage, and illegal dumping activities. Microplastics are ubiquitous in marine waters, from deep ocean sediments to polar icecaps, a result of the estimated 8 million tons of plastic that enters the oceans each year (3). (…)

Tamara S. Galloway and Ceri N. Lewis, PNAS, vol. 113 (9), 2331–2333, 22/02/2016

The commentary



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