By Magda.

On this blog we have covered the topic of the marine garbage patch on several occasions (for example here, here and here) as well as how important recycling of plastic waste is. So far, most research was focussed on the influence of plastic on the marine environment, but recently several articles have drawn attention to micro-particles of plastic in lakes.

The first study to focus on this issue was conducted on the great lakes and found large amounts of micro-plastic within the lake (up to 466,000 particles/km2). The researchers attributed many of the perfectly spherical particles to the use of cosmetic products containing micro beads. Due to the small size these particles cannot be filtered and eventually will end up in our water ways.

worms
Clitellate worm (B,C) Fluorescent image of the mid-body showing fluorescent microplastic particles (white arrows) in the digestive tract. From Imhof et al., Contamination of beach sediments of a subalpine lake with microplastic particles, Current biology, 2013

And they are harmful – not only to the environment, as shown by another study conducted on Lake Garda, which found plastic in the digestion system of worms and other freshwater species, which is a starting point to introduce plastic into the food cycle and thus plastic will end up on our plates as well.

Unfortunatly micro-plastic will also form due to degradation of bigger plastic particles.

And, it doesn’t even stop there:

Micro-plastic is small and light enough to get transported by wind and has been detected in several products that we consume, including milk, honey and drinking water (found by a Swiss consumer affairs TV report). And most likely this list will get a lot longer, following more studies on this topic.

Many manufactures of cosmetic products using micro-beads (used in many toothpastes and body/facial scrub,…) have agreed to not use micro-plastic in their products from 2015. However, this will not solve the problem completely, since micro-particles of plastic are also formed by degradation of larger items.