What Are Microplastics?

What Are Microplastics?

Have you been hearing talk about “microplastics” and how harmful they are? This is a subject of growing concern, and the more educated you are on plastic pollution, the better you can combat it. The good news is that this is a problem that does have a solution — but it will only work if people become conscious consumers and live sustainably. 

Continue reading to learn more about microplastics and how to solve the problem. 

First, a Word About Your Beach Towels

Did you know that your beach towel is most likely contributing to microplastic pollution? Most beach towels, and most textiles, contain synthetic materials. Every time you wash these synthetic materials, microplastics are released into the water. 

We have a better alternative for you at FiveADRIFT. Our beach towels contain zero plastics and are made with organic hemp, cotton and other natural fibers. Additionally, 100% of our profits go toward cleaning up the ocean. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Check out our sustainable beach towels here.

Now, let’s learn a bit more about microplastics:

Understanding Microplastics

If you go to the beach and run the sand through a sieve, chances are you’ll find microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic can come from anything made from synthetic materials. Have you ever washed your face or body with an exfoliating soap that contains microbeads? Those microbeads are made of plastic. When it goes down the drain it ends up in bodies of water and pollutes the environment. 

Pew Charitable Trusts published a study that found that four types of microplastics were making up 11% of total plastic pollution in the ocean:

  1. Plastic pellets that come from the manufacturing of every plastic product
  2. Wear and tear from car tires
  3. Breakdown of synthetic fibers from washing
  4. Microbeads in body care products, such as exfoliants

Just these four sources of microplastics account for 2.8 billion pounds of plastic pollution. In fact, the breakdown of tires accounts for almost three quarters of total microplastic pollution. Clearly, there is a lot of work to do in both cleaning up and reducing microplastics. 

Microplastics in the Environment

Microplastics are very harmful to the environment and to wildlife. Birds and aquatic animals mistake microplastics for food. While in the past, scientists have only discovered microplastics in the guts of ocean-dependent animals, they have recently been discovering microplastics in other animals. In fact, the Wildlife Society recently reported that microplastics were detected in birds of prey for the first time

Consider how a baleen whale eats. These types of whales have baleen plates in their mouth that sieve plankton and krill from the water. The plates are meant to allow small particles through. This means that baleen whales can ingest microplastics. The Plastic Soup Foundation reports that baleen whales ingest up to three million pieces of microplastic a day. Fortunately, most of these microplastics are excreted in the whale's feces, but not all. 

While it’s not completely clear how microplastic ingestion affects animals yet, scientists report that it may decrease feeding and increase lethargy. The result in this case would be an untimely death for the animal.

Keeping microplastics out of the environment helps ensure that wildlife is safe from pollution. 

How to Reduce Microplastics

While you can’t avoid microplastics in everything you do, the best way to live sustainably and reduce microplastics is to be conscious about the choices you make. Here are some ideas:

Avoid Single-Use Plastics

The first, and easiest, way to reduce microplastics is to avoid single-use plastics. This means not using plastic water bottles, bags or other products that use plastic packaging. 

Fortunately, many alternatives make switching out single-use plastic easy. You can use reusable metal water bottles and grocery bags. Additionally, many companies are switching to sustainable packaging and refill options so you can reduce your plastic waste. 

Watch for Greenwashing

As a conscious consumer, be wary of greenwashing. This is when a company uses “green” marketing strategies, such as making the packaging green or natural looking, to make the product appear as though it is better for the planet. 

Want to learn how to spot flimsy environmental claims companies make? Check this out: How to Tell if a Company is Really Green

A great way to find high-quality, sustainable brands is through B Corporations. Certified B Corporations have undergone heavy-duty auditing to ensure they are following high ethical and environmental standards for both people and the planet. You can find different B Corps here — simply search for the product alternative you are looking for and see which companies meet the B Corp standards.

Plastic-Free Fibers

We’ve already described how washing synthetic materials contributes to microplastic pollution. According to the European Environment Agency, about 220,000 to 550,000 tons of microfibers are released into the ocean every year. So, what can you do about this?

The easiest way to reduce synthetic fibers is to avoid purchasing clothing, towels, rugs and other fiber products that contain the following:

– Nylon

– Polyester

– Rayon

– Acetate

– Acrylic

These are only a few of the most common synthetic fibers that you can find around your home and in your closet. While it may not always be possible to find products without these materials, do the best you can.

Great alternatives to these materials are organic cotton, hemp, linen and other naturally derived fibers. Our towels at FiveADRIFT, for example, are made of cotton and hemp. There are more environmentally friendly alternatives everywhere — you just have to do some research. 

FiveADRIFT: The Towel That Cleans the Ocean

The reason why microplastic pollution has gotten so out of hand is because it is incredibly difficult to clean. It’s easy to pick up a water bottle or even cigarette butt that you find on the beach, but who is going to sit there and dig through the sand for tiny pieces of colorful plastic? The truth is that few of us would do that.

Fortunately, many organizations are working to remove both microplastics and regular plastics from the ocean. At FiveADRIFT, we donate 100% of our profits to Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider and Oceana. These charities are working hard to keep our oceans clean and the incredible wildlife that calls them home safe. 

We are also working toward B Corporation certification so that we can prove our commitment to sustainability, people and the planet. Read more about our story and our mission here.

Back to blog