JUN 16

Preliminary   > Environment and Ecology   >   Pollution   >   Plastic pollution

Why in news?

  • For the first time, Microplastics have been found in freshly fallen snow in Antarctica.

About Microplastics:

  • Microplastics are tiny plastic debris that is smaller than 5 mm in length, and tinier than even a grain of rice.
  • There are two types of microplastics:
  • Primary microplastics:
    • These are tiny particles that are purposely designed as such for commercial use, like in cosmetics, nurdles-plastic pellets used in industrial manufacturing and in fibres from synthetic textiles like nylon.
  • Secondary microplastics:
    • These are formed through the degradation of larger plastic items like bottles, fishing nets and plastic bags. This occurs through exposure to the environment, like radiation from the sun, wind and ocean waves.

Microplastic and Environment:

  • Microplastics are not biodegradable and once they are found in the environment, they begin to accumulate. They can be toxic for plants and animals.
  • Ingestion of microplastics by various life forms in the region, from microorganisms like zooplankton to larger predators like king penguins can disrupt their usual biological processes and negatively impact the entire Antarctic food chain.
  • Dark-coloured microplastics which constituted 55% of the samples collected in the study are even more harmful than lighter colours as they are better at absorbing sunlight and retain more heat.
  • When snow travels in the atmosphere, it binds itself to airborne particles and pollutants, which are then deposited on Earth’s surfaces. This phenomenon is called “scavenging”. Hence, this is a significant way in which microplastics are able to travel and further pollute land and water.


Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into environment? (2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.

(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.

(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.

(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.