What are Microplastics?

  • Plastic debris that is less than five millimeters in length is called “microplastics.”


Types and sources of Microplastics:

Primary Microplastics:

  • These are the microplastics which have been made as plastics less than 5mm in length.
  • Microbeads are the type of primary microplastics which are less than 1mm in length.
  • They are made from polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyesters.
  • Common sources:
    • Microbeads are used as exfoliants in health and beauty products- in facewash, toothpaste etc.
    • From tyres: Most of car tyres contain synthetic rubber and it is rubbed off on the road and eventually washed to water sources.
    • Machine washing synthetic fabric


Secondary Microplastics

  • These are the plastics that result from fragmentation and weathering of plastic larger objects. It contributes to 75% of the total microplastics pollution.



Harmful effects of Microplastics

  • Microplastics are non- biodegrade i.e. they are not broken down into simpler substances by the microorganisms. So, the microplastics never dissolve and stay in water or soil.
  • Microplastics enter marine fauna (fishes, zooplanktons, oyster, shrimps etc.) by ingestion of marine debris containing the pollutant.
    • From there, they may bioaccumulate up the food chain and enter the human diet.
    • These particles can produce toxins which can affect various organs of the body. (Exact mechanisms are not known yet)
    • These microparticles can act as vectors of contaminants.


Steps that can be taken

  • Data on freshwater microplastics are lacking in India, whereas research on this pollutant is drawing attention globally. The magnitude of the problem should be assessed.
  • As 75% of the pollution is from secondary source, controlling plastics at the source is the option to be explored because once microplastics are released into the environment there is little can be done to limit their distribution and impacts.
  • Concerted efforts in improving and monitoring waste management programs.
  • Emphasis should be given on ‘three R principle’: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, for the plastic management. This will reduce the influx of plastics.
  • Strict legislations on plastic ban and their regulations should be enacted.


Section : Environment & Ecology