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This Is How Microplastics Screw Our Wildlife (and Us Too)!

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Plastic waste is flooding everywhere
Plastics have always been a constant danger to wildlife.

Source: Unsplash [4]


Animals and plastics don’t mix well! We are reminded of this fact once again after a visitor in Taman Safari Bogor was caught throwing a plastic cup into the mouth of a hippopotamus. For some of us who are already aware of the danger that plastics pose, the news is undoubtedly shameful and irritating. Yet, this accident isn’t even the most frightening amongst all the plastic troubles at hand.



What's scarier is, plastic would eventually break down into smaller particles called microplastics (with size no more than 5 mm) [1]. Why is this scary, you ask? Well, can you imagine if these tiny particles find their way into an animal’s mouth or even ours? But whether this has a side effect to our health remains debatable since the topic itself is still under many studies.

 
 

Microplastics may cause negative effects (or not!)


Several studies indicated that microplastics affected gene expression, growth, reproduction, and survival of an animal [2]. Research on fish has shown that exposure to microplastics stunted growth and altered behaviour patterns such as ignoring the smell of predators and preferring plastic over zooplankton as food [3]. However, other studies had different results regarding the matter. In these studies, microplastics did not have any negative impact at all [2]. How can the results vary this much?


If we put it in a simpler analogy, we can say that microplastics are like microbes. Some pose danger to us, while some others are practically harmless. Let’s continue the reading to further understand this problem.


Different conditions, different results


As large scraps, plastics can strangle animals. On the other hand, microplastics’ size renders them from such capacity, hence the harm comes from the difference in their base chemical components.


Studies on crustaceans who were exposed to polystyrene and terephthalate showed different results. The latter group of crustaceans produced fewer offspring than the usual, while the former group still produced many offspring.


Another experiment found out that the shape of the microplastics also matter. For example, it was discovered that microfibers (from rope and clothing) were more likely to cause damage rather than microplastics fragments or spheres. Lastly, there are other factors that should also be taken into consideration, such as doses and duration of exposure [2].


Microfibers are polluting marine ecosystems
Microfibers are already wandering in many marine ecosystems.

Source: Intelligent Living [5]


Back to our analogy, we will find the conditions above are also present with microbes, right? Say that one individual has the right immune system to combat Virus X, then okay, nothing’s gonna happen, while the same may not be the case for other people. There are just a lot of different factors we should consider.

 
 

But don’t take any chance


Although we still need to instigate more study and research, we better not take any chance as microplastics also have the possibility to pose danger to human’s health. There are many ways for microplastics to slip into food chains, including through milestone organisms such as zooplanktons. Since humans sit at the apex of the world food chain, we are consequently at a greater risk of ingesting huge amounts of microplastics and have them accumulating in our body [3]. What an unpleasant thought, isn’t it?


Microplastics in zooplankton
Microplastics, colored green, are spotted inside a zooplankton.

Source: Encounter Edu [6]


So, rather than taking the risk, we should set counter measures starting from now. How? Well, the answer is the same as preventing more regular plastics from flooding the Earth: reduce our waste!


And how are we supposed to do that? Don’t worry! If you still have trouble adapting to zero waste lifestyle, there is an e-book you can purchase in our shop! Go check it out!


 

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