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Plastic waste is separated into two categories: the macroplastics and the microplastics. The difference between them? Size.
The macroplastics are composed of big pieces of plastic debris, such as fish lines and lighters. On the other hand, microplastics are smaller than 5mm. This category includes the microbeads presents in some personal care products as exfoliants.
The microplastics are produced to be added to hand soap, toothpaste and skin washes. After these products reach the end of their lifespan, their small beads end up in the environment via waste water. They are more likely to end up in the oceans or the seas.
The microplastics are not only produced by humans, they are also created in the environment. Usually, when the macroplastic debris is in the ocean, they are photodegraded by the sun’s rays. It is important to clarify that plastic degrades, it does not decompose. The photodegradation is mostly present in the oceans. Macroplastics degrade into smaller and smaller particles because of the ultraviolet rays emitted by the Sun.
The microplastics can appear more benign than the macroplastics because of their size, but that is not the case. The macroplastics are only the tip of the iceberg. They do the visible damages while the microplastics causes damages that only reveal themselves when it is too late.
For example, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the planktons in the Galapagos are highly contaminated by microplastics. So, the microplastics slowly infiltrate the food chain through the planktons. Thus, the fish and the whales, who eat plankton, also eat plastic. The plastic pollution is now in places we thought to be protected like in the Galápagos or our food.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 03 on October 9th, 2019