What are Microplastics?

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Researchers recently created a plant-based polymer that biodegrades at microplastic level.

About Microplastics:

  • Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that result from both commercial product development and the breakdown of larger plastics. Officially, they are defined as plastics less than five millimeters (0.2 inches) in diameter.
    • The name is used to differentiate them from “macroplastics”, such as bottles and bags made of plastic.
  • They are present in a variety of products, from cosmetics to synthetic clothing to plastic bags and bottles. Many of these products readily enter the environment as waste.
  • They consist of carbon and hydrogen atoms bound together in polymer chains. Other chemicals, such as phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), are typically also present in microplastics.
  • There are two categories of microplastics: primary and secondary.
    • Primary microplastics are tiny particles designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics, as well as microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles, such as fishing nets.
    • Secondary microplastics are particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.
  • Environmental Impacts:
    • The problem with microplastics is that, like plastic items of any size, they do not readily break down into harmless molecules.
    • Thus, once in the environment, primary and secondary microplastics accumulate and persist.
    • Microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms. Standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics.
    • Microplastics are also a source of air pollution, occurring in dust and airborne fibrous particles. 

What are Polymers?

  • Polymers are materials made of longrepeating chains of molecules. The materials have unique properties, depending on the type of molecules being bonded and how they are bonded.
  • Some polymers bend and stretch, like rubber and polyester. Others are hard and tough, like epoxies and glass.
  • The term polymer is often used to describe plastics, which are synthetic polymers. However, natural polymers also exist; rubber and wood, for example, are natural polymers that consist of a simple hydrocarbon, isoprene.

Q1: What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. They are often called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used to help dissolve other materials. Phthalates are in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, lubricating oils, and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays).

Source : "Monumental Step": Scientists Create Biodegradable Microplastics