WHAT ARE MICROPLASTICS?
Microplastics are generally defined as plastic particles that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter. As their name suggests, they are often microscopic and invisible to the human eye. Because they are so small, their impacts are often ignored. It's easy to see the problem with The Great Pacific Garbage Patch or giant landfills of plastic bottles, and even though we are surrounded, ingesting, and drinking microplastics every day, most people are unaware of their significance.
Microplastics are grouped according to their shape and size. From microfibers to microbeads, nurdles to fragments, microplastics come in all forms with varying sources making reducing microplastic pollution especially difficult. Microplastics can also be further categorized into primary and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics those specifically manufactured for uses such as microfibers in synthetic clothing and microbeads used as exfoliants in cosmetic products. On the other hand, secondary microplastics are those that result from the environmental degradation of larger plastics.
WHY ARE MICROPLASTICS A PROBLEM?
The greatest danger of microplastics lies in the toxic chemicals they transport. Specifically, the category of organic compounds known as persistent organic pollutants, which have been found to have significant negative impacts on human health and the environment. Examples of common persistent organic pollutants include industrial chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and manufacturing by-products like polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF) all of which may have effects such as increasing cancer risk and causing reproductive disorders when humans and organisms are exposed. Because of their small size, microplastics are the perfect transporters for these toxins as they can easily enter organisms and help the chemicals bio-accumulate within ecosystems. Moreover, as both persistent organic pollutants and microplastics can be found virtually everywhere on the planet, this is an issue that we simply can no longer afford to ignore.
WHY DO WE NEED CITIZEN SCIENCE?
The countless different types and categories of microplastics make it particularly difficult for a standard methodology in research and along with a reliance on subjective visual identification, no study has been able to successfully aggregate microplastic data. Because of this lack of scope, government policies on microplastics are few and far between and microplastics remain a dangerous part of our ecosystems. Citizen science is critical in this regard as it helps democratizes science, connecting people to the problems in their community, and gives researchers a better understanding of the issue at hand. However, the problem with most citizen science organizations is that either their process is far too complicated and inaccessible, defeating the purpose of citizen science in the first place, or their data is unreliable for researchers with no guarantee on the quality of analysis performed by citizen scientists.
The Coastal Microplastics Project, on the other hand, takes unique approach to microplastic citizen science, as we take care of all the analysis on our end, minimizing human error and keeping the process simple for our citizen scientists. Furthermore, we only publish data found through objective analysis tools such as the identification of polymers and archive all samples for researchers to use for free upon request for any subjective analysis.
With your help, we can make microplastic pollution a problem of the past.