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The Hidden Menace Of Microplastics

The problem of plastic pollution has gained global attention, but there is another, less visible danger lurking within our ecosystems—microplastics. Small plastic particles of 5 millimeters or less, some invisible to the naked eye, have pervaded our surroundings, posing a significant threat to the environment and even our own food chain.

Microplastics come in two types: (i) primary microplastics, which are deliberately produced to be small, such as microbeads in cosmetics, exfoliants, and fibers from synthetic clothing; and (ii) secondary microplastics, which result from the degradation of larger plastic items, such as plastic bottles, due to weathering, sunlight, and mechanical stress. Microplastics have a high surface area to volume ratio, which can cause them to absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding environment. They are ubiquitous and have been discovered worldwide, even in isolated polar regions and the deepest ocean pathways (Bergmann et al. 2019). They have also been found in food items, such as tea bags, sugar, shrimp paste, and salt packets, and their long-term effects are not yet fully understood.

From Dinner Plates to the Human Body

After entering the marine environment, microplastics can be consumed by small organisms, which are then eaten by larger predators. This leads to greater concentrations of microplastics at higher levels of the food chain. Ultimately, microplastics can make their way into the human diet through the consumption of seafood.

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Studies have shown that microplastics can induce inflammatory responses in the gastrointestinal tract, which may contribute to gastrointestinal disorders and other health issues. They can move across biological barriers and enter the circulatory system (Persiani et al. 2023). Once in the blood, the microplastics may be transported to various organs and tissues and have been found in blood clots in the brain, heart and legs (Watson 2024). This raises grave concerns about the long-term health effects.

Alarmingly, microplastics have also been found in the human placenta, where they can affect developing fetuses. The potential impacts on fetal development and long-term health are still largely unknown, but this finding highlights the urgent need for further research. Even more surprising, recent studies have discovered microplastics in human breast milk, raising concerns about the potential transfer of these particles to infants (Ragusa et al. 2022).

Microplastics in Asia

Asia is considered a plastics “hub” as the use of plastics has increased significantly because of urbanization, economic growth, and population expansion (Phuong et al. 2022). In South Asia, India has done a great deal of research on microplastics and implemented successful policy interventions. The country has adopted a diversified approach to managing single-use plastics by banning and implementing extended producer responsibility, and it has developed assessment methodologies, including surveillance, grievance redressal, digital interventions, periodic monitoring, and auditing to evaluate the effectiveness of its interventions.

While there is a lack of comprehensive studies on microplastic pollution in inland and freshwater environments, a few studies have been published from Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The existence and consequences of microplastics on the environment have not yet been reported by Afghanistan or Bhutan (Amrutha et al. 2021).

Combatting Microplastic Pollution

Coordinated waste management policies and strategies are necessary to address the urgent issue of microplastics. The solutions include enhanced recycling and waste reduction measures, product redesign, and innovative technological interventions that can help mitigate microplastic pollution. Some devices have shown promise, for example, by removing microplastics from water using ultrasonic sound waves (Lapointe and McFall-Johnsen 2024). Strengthening existing policy through legislative measures and improving the participation of stakeholders will help reduce the generation of microplastics through the proper disposal of plastics.

The presence of microplastics in the human body is a concerning development. While the full extent of the health risks associated with microplastics is yet to be determined, we must take proactive measures to curb plastic pollution and protect our planet and ourselves from its harmful effects. Informed consumer choices, advocacy for stronger environmental policies, and continued research are vital in confronting this invisible enemy and safeguarding our health for future generations.

Improving wastewater treatment plants to filter microplastics properly before dumping them into water bodies can be crucial for preventing further pollution (Hou et al. 2021). In addition, creating new materials and products that do not shed microplastics as easily and using better filtration systems can help keep microplastics from getting into the environment (Jönsson et al. 2018). Governments, business entities, and research groups must work together to preserve inland and marine habitats and protect them from this hidden menace.


Amrutha, K., V. Unnikrishnan, S. Shajikumar, and A. K. Warrier. 2021. Current State of Microplastics Research in SAARC Countries—A Review. In Microplastic Pollution, edited by S. S. Muthu. Springer: 27–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-0297-9_2

Bergmann, M., S. Mützel, S. Primpke, M. B. Tekman, J. Trachsel, and G. Gerdts. 2019. White and Wonderful? Microplastics Prevail in Snow from the Alps to the Arctic. Science Advances 5(8). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aax1157

Bigdeli, M., A. Mohammadian, A. Pilechi, and M. Taheri. 2022. Lagrangian Modeling of Marine Microplastics Fate and Transport: The State of the Science. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering 10(4): 481. https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse10040481

Hardesty, B. D., J. Harari, A. Isobe, L. Lebreton, N. Maximenko, J. Potemra, E. van Sebille, A. D. Vethaak, and C. Wilcox. 2017. Using Numerical Model Simulations to Improve the Understanding of Micro-Plastic Distribution and Pathways in the Marine Environment. Frontiers in Marine Science 4 (March). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2017.00030

Hou, L., D. Kumar, C. G. Yoo, I. Gitsov, and E. L.-W. Majumder. 2021. Conversion and Removal Strategies for Microplastics in Wastewater Treatment Plants and Landfills. Chemical Engineering Journal 406 (February): 126715. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cej.2020.126715

Jönsson, C., O. L. Arturin, A.-C. Hanning, R. Landin, E. Holmström, and S. Roos. 2018. Microplastics Shedding from Textiles—Developing Analytical Method for Measurement of Shed Material Representing Release during Domestic Washing. Sustainability 10(7): 2457. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072457

Lapointe, E., and M. McFall-Johnsen. 2024. 2 Teens Won $50,000 for Inventing a Device That Can Filter Toxic Microplastics from Water. 24 May. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/teens-win-fifty-thousand-for-ultrasound-microplastic-filtration-device-2024-5

Persiani, E., A. Cecchettini, E. Ceccherini, I. Gisone, M. A. Morales, and F. Vozzi. 2023. Microplastics: A Matter of the Heart (and Vascular System). Biomedicines 11(2): 264. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines11020264

Phuong, N. N., T. T. Duong, T. P. Q. Le, T. K. Hoang, H. M. Ngo, N. A. Phuong, Q. T. Pham, et al. 2022. Microplastics in Asian Freshwater Ecosystems: Current Knowledge and Perspectives. Science of The Total Environment 808 (February): 151989. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.151989

Ragusa, A., V. Notarstefano, A. Svelato, A. Belloni, G. Gioacchini, C. Blondeel, E. Zucchelli, et al. 2022. Raman Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breastmilk. Polymers 14(13): 2700. https://doi.org/10.3390/polym14132700

Tajwar, M., M. Y. Gazi, and S. K. Saha. 2022. Characterization and Spatial Abundance of Microplastics in the Coastal Regions of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: An Integration of Field, Laboratory, and GIS Techniques. Soil and Sediment Contamination: An International Journal 31(1): 57–80. https://doi.org/10.1080/15320383.2021.1910622

Watson, C. 2024. Microplastics Found in Blood Clots in Heart, Brain, and Legs. 23 May. Science Alert. https://www.sciencealert.com/microplastics-found-in-blood-clots-in-heart-brain-and-legs


Shimly Stanly is a doctoral student in the Department of Sciences, Amrita School of Physical Sciences, India.
S. Rajendrakumar is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Amrita School of Engineering, India.
Dil Rahut is vice-chair of research and a senior research fellow at ADBI.
M. P. Jonathan is a professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research and Studies on Environment and Development, National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico.

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