Microplastics Increasingly Being Found in the Biosphere Leading to Health and Environmental Issues

Plastic degrades, like everything man made, and breaks down over time into tiny pieces that accumulates throughout the environment. Microplastics can be found in every part of the Earth. According to CivilEats.com, plastic pervades the planet from the bottom of the ocean floor to our drinking water and all the way to the human placenta. Fertility issues are also reported to be caused by these toxic invaders.

Since plastics do not decompose, they turn into smaller and smaller pieces eventually becoming nanoplastics invisible to the naked eye. These microscopic pieces of plastic are what complicate matters as a menace to the biosphere due to being very difficult to eradicate. Agriculture is responsible for 3.5 percent of global plastic production at around 400 million metric tons per year. The production of plastics, as a derivative of fossil fuels typically obtained through fracking, is responsible for over 5 percent of global emissions.

Quartz reported in 2022 that plastic use in agriculture is contributing to climate change. In satellite images, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has observed the typically golden and green agricultural fields turned white, as though dusted in snow, from all of the plastic. Drastically changing the rural landscape, NASA says South Korea, Spain, and Turkey all use significant amounts of plastic to produce food in greenhouses. Carbon emissions from plastic is estimated to outpace coal emissions by 2030. A report by FAO forecasts a 50% increase in demand of plastics used in agriculture by 2030.

A study from 2022 highlights how residual remains of mulching in the form of microplastics cause soil pollution that alters the characteristics of soil flora and fauna. Microplastics are responsible for many changes in the soil physicochemical characteristics, including porosity, enzymatic activities, microbial activities, plant growth, and yield. Microplastics also act as a vector for environmental pollutants in the soil environment because of their ubiquitous nature, high specific surface area, and strong hydrophobicity. Microplastics therefore play an important role in the transportation of toxic chemicals such as plasticisers, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), antibiotics, and potentially toxic elements (PTEs). Microplastics may also be transported deep into the soil and can pollute underground water. The study recommended that new agronomic technology and biodegradable mulch films need to be developed in place of plastics in agriculture.

Another study published in the Nature journal found plastics to be housed within the human body, such as reproductive organs, leading to health issues. Human exposure to MPs occurs through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact. Their size and surface area render them susceptible to chemical interactions with physiological fluids and tissues, raising bioaccumulation and toxicity concerns. The detection of MPs in penile tissue raises inquiries on the ramifications of environmental pollutants on sexual health.

Furthermore, microplastics have been found in human testicles according to another study published in the Toxicological Studies Journal. Researchers are saying the discovery might be linked to fertility issues such as declining sperm counts in men. The Guardian recently reported that sperm counts in men have been falling for decades, with chemical pollution such as pesticides implicated by many other studies. Microplastics have also been discovered in human blood, placentas, and breast milk, which indicates widespread contamination of people’s bodies. The impact on health is as yet unknown but microplastics have been shown to cause damage to human cells in the laboratory.