Microplastics, those little blue dots that we can find in some toothpastes and cosmetic products, are plastic particles. They are mostly polyethylene polymers of less than 5 milimeters in size that have become a major environmental problem in the current years.
The problematic starts with their relase from different products to the drain and then water and soil. Because of their extremely low degradation rates and tiny size, they go unnoticed through water-treatment plants. This leads to their accumulation mostly in the marine and fluvial environment.
From the 9,5 million tons of plastic released to the oceans per year, between 15% and 31% are microplastics.
In toothpaste, microplastics have an abrasive power destined to "deep-clean" our teeth. However, is toothpaste itself the self-care product that is considered to date as the most dangerous to the sea life due to its microplastic content.
Plastic polymers themselves are not toxic. The problem is that, once in the water, they act as sponges and absorb toxins. Small fish end up eating this microplastics, which then "may cause hormonal alterations and affect the neurological system of the fish", as stated by Juan Bellas, a specialist in Ecotoxicology and Marine Pollution from the Instituto Español de Oceanografía (Spanish Institute of Oceanography), in an interview with BBC Mundo.
On the same hand, Oihane Cabezas, a researcher from AZTI, the Technological Center for Marine and Food Innovation in Sukarrieta (Bizkaia), and expert in marine pollution, states that the ingestion of microplastics can damage the marine creatures' digestive system. In consequence, her team has already observed negative effects in these creatures such as loss of weight, decrease in growth and changes in their eating habits.
The microplastics present in toothpastes generate great damage in marine and fluvial ecosystems.
The American foundation Conservation Education states that "when the fish and other aquatic organisms ingest these plastic particles, the chemical substances contained in them bioaccumulate in their bodies. This means that, through the food chain, these toxins get to bigger fish, other species and also us, humans"
There are even some studies published in scientific magazines like Environmental Science & Technology showing the presence of these microparticles in fish far from the coast and even in the sea salt 🧂 we have at our homes.
In many countries such as Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and the majority of the European Union, have already forbidden the use of microplastics in cosmetic and self-care products. We hope more and more countries join the change! ♻️
We still have time to help save our planet!
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También puedes encontrar este post en Español.
Carbery M, O'Connor W, et al. Trophic transfer of microplastics and mixed contaminants in the marine food web and implications for human health, Environment International. 2018. 115(400-409). ISSN 0160-4120, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.03.007.
Ustabasi GS, Baysal A. Occurrence and risk assessment of microplastics from various toothpastes. Environ Monit Assess. 2019 Jun 15;191(7):438. doi: 10.1007/s10661-019-7574-1. PMID: 31203457.
Ustabasi GS, Baysal A. Bacterial interactions of microplastics extracted from toothpaste under controlled conditions and the influence of seawater, Science of The Total Environment. 2020. 703(135024). ISSN 0048-9697