Microplastics -- the "smallest" but biggest plastic pollution problem

Did you know that we could be eating one credit card a week? Not metaphorically, in terms of money, but the amount of plastic equivalent to the credit card we all keep in our wallets. This could sound exaggerated but wait until you hear about how much plastic we ingest every day.

Microplastics are everywhere. If you are not familiar with this term, it is literally what its name suggests, very small pieces of plastic. Sometimes, they are purposely made to be as small as they are. "Microbeads" can sometimes be found in beauty and health products, like facial cleansers and toothpastes. Companies create these "microbeads" and add them into products as exfoliants. Their small sizes allow them to easily pass through water systems and end up in the ocean.

Ever since the issue of microplastic has been brought under the spotlight, there has been fewer health and skincare products using microbeads. However, in the modern world, it is almost impossible to completely eliminate the use of plastic. Even washing and cleaning clothes may also produce microplastics that enter the water sewage system. This is because polyester -- a fabric that is becoming more and more prominent, is in fact plastic. It is easily made stretchy, sweat-proof, and cheap to produce, making it one of the most prominent types of fabric used nowadays. When we look further, food packaging, toys, furniture, you name it, almost anything found in the supermarket is wrapped in plastic. When these plastics get thrown in the trash, these large pieces of plastic debris degrade into smaller and smaller pieces, ending up being microplastics. In fact, ANY type of plastic may end up becoming microplastic.

Scientists have found microplastics not only in the sea, but even in soil, snow and freshwater systems. On the environmental level, these plastics enter the food cycle of animals, harming the health and wellbeing of our earth's biodiversity. Microplastics have also been repeatedly reported to be found in seafood. Living in the world's largest per capita seafood consuming region, Hong Kong people should be very alarmed by the issue of microplastics. We might even be eating more than one credit card a week!

To end on a brighter note, there are still things that we, individuals, can do to slow down the process of plastic pollution. First, we can "vote" with our consumption. We can choose not to buy products with microbeads, or with excessive plastic packaging in general. More importantly, we must educate our family and friends on this issue. We can create awareness in our community through school and company campaigns. All change starts small!

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