By Yvonne Ndungi,
Plastics are materials of a synthetic or semi-synthetic nature extracted from crude oil. Plastic, which is a byproduct of crude oil can be molded to suit any need due it’s flexibility and strength which suits it’s Greek definition “plastikos” which means “fit for molding”. It came into existence in the late twentieth century. The variety of uses of these polymers left scientists intrigued. Due to cheap production of plastics, most manufacturers opted for it as a packaging material, leading to the disruption of the global market. This essentially promised them higher returns by cutting down operational costs.
However, owing to non-degradable nature these plastics, under the forces of nature they disintegrate into microscopic particles known as microplastics. Microplastics are either grouped as primary or secondary. The latter referring to tiny break-offs from the large plastics. Primary category includes micro beads intentionally introduced in shower gels and face scrubbers to fit consumer preferences. Micro beads are also used in the textile industry in the manufacture of synthetic textiles like Nylon.
The vast use of plastics has raised concerns as humanity dawns on the effects of plastic not only to the environment but also social governance. What was meant for good has now become a menace with an estimate of 11,400 per square meter per month as an airborne pollutant occurring as dust and airborne fibrous particles. Steve Allen, one of the researchers termed these findings as “scary” as he participated in a research that found thousands of microplastics raining in Pyrenees. The aquatic system seems to be taking the biggest blow. According to recent findings, microplastics, due to their chemical composition including the polymer type and additives meant to reinforce plastic s have been reported to impair the endocrine and lymphatic system. These systems are responsible for regulating hormonal production and eliminating toxins. However, in a report released by WHO they stressed on the unknown effects of microplastics on human health.
Recently, a whale estimated to be 7 years old was found dead on the Italian beach. In its stomach, there was an estimated net of 22kg of microplastics. This is just a few of the cases that show the effects of plastics on the environment.
According to research an estimate of 8,300 million metric tons of plastic is believed to have been produced, in the year 2015 alone. Due to the alarming rise in plastic production and subsequent pollution UK banned the use of plastics. This included the banning of microbeads in personal items like toothpaste and cosmetic products. Other countries have joined the war against plastic pollution, with Kenya declaring a ban on plastic bags and single use plastics in the country. These initiatives are helping in reducing pollution.
A team of researchers have taken this a notch higher by searching for microorganisms that attach themselves to microplastics. The two species of microorganisms one which is used in oil spillage in the break down the hydrocarbons. The effectiveness has not been tested on a large scale, scientists are hoping for a breakthrough.