Reducing microplastics in your watershed

By: Nicholas Pease, Kingston ON

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic (5 mm or smaller) existing in the environment either by design or by degradation of larger plastic items. By understanding how they enter the environment we can change our behaviour and reduce our individual pollution levels.  Microplastics can have a negative impact on the environment by leaching toxic or endocrine disrupting chemicals during their degradation. They can also be ingested by animals and typically aggregate in aquatic and marine environments. They are generally not biodegradable and will persist in the environment for 100s or 1000s of years. 

Image from Lake Ontario Waterkeeper

Primary microplastics are purpose-built to be small. This includes beads in exfoliating cosmetics, plastic pellets for manufacturing, and microfibers for clothing and textiles. Reducing your use of primary microplastics is an important step to reducing your aquatic pollution footprint. Avoid purchasing products with microbeads in the ingredients and be conscious of products made with synthetic fibers.  Plastic fibers are estimated to make up over 50% of the textiles in a North American home, and each of these is made of microplastics. 

The main pollution risk is when washing synthetic fabrics and microfibers are released into the water since fibers are too small to be captured by most filters. Increased pollution occurs from loose-knit fabrics such as fleece. By buying less clothing with synthetic fibers and washing them less frequently, you can reduce the amount of microplastic in your watershed.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has recognized the ecological threat of microplastics. They are committed to learning more about these impacts. To learn more about what the CWF is doing, visit their website by clicking here.

Secondary microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are produced by the fragmentation of larger pieces of plastic in the environment. This includes all forms of plastic waste in the environment. While the majority of secondary microplastics pollution comes from industrial waste such as fisheries netting, a large percentage, especially in inland freshwater ecosystems, comes from consumer plastics.

To reduce your secondary microplastics pollution footprint, avoid any products with single use plastic. Reduce purchasing imported or packaged consumer goods as much as possible. Recycle all plastic that is eligible locally and do not litter.

Plastic is a durable and versatile material that is ubiquitous in our lives in the 21st century. While it offers many economic benefits, it has become a widespread pollutant in the aqueous environment. Reducing your consumption of goods containing microplastics and goods that can become microplastics will help to protect your local watershed.

What can you do?

• Avoid purchasing clothing with synthetic fibers, especially loose knit fabrics such as fleece.

• Wash clothing like fleece less frequently.

• Reduce your consumption of single use plastics (straws, plastic bags, water bottles and packaging etc.).

• Always recycle and do not litter.

• Place all plastic in the garbage and clean up plastic litter in the environment.