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Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic that pollute the environment. Microplastics are not a specific kind of plastic, but rather any type of plastic fragment that is less than 5 mm in length according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They enter natural ecosystems from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes.The term 'microplastics' was introduced in 2004 by Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.The existence of microplastics in the environment is often established through aquatic studies. These include taking plankton samples, analyzing sandy and muddy sediments, observing vertebrate and invertebrate consumption, and evaluating chemical pollutant interactions. Through such methods, it has been shown that there are microplastics from multiple sources in the environment.According to a comprehensive review of scientific evidence published by the European Union's Scientific Advice Mechanism in 2019, microplastics are now present in every part of the environment. While there is no evidence of widespread ecological risk from microplastic pollution yet, risks are likely to become widespread within a century if pollution continues at its current rate.There is truly a staggering amount of microplastics in our world’s oceans. The Ocean Conservancy reported that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam dump more plastic in the sea than all other countries combined. Though there is debate over exactly how much microplastic is in the world’s oceans a 2015 study estimated that there was between 93 and 236 thousand metric tons of microplastics in the world’s oceans. A study of the distribution of Eastern Pacific Ocean surface plastic debris helps to illustrate how the concentration of plastics in the ocean is on the rise. Though the study admits further research is needed to predict trends in ocean plastic concentration, the study, using data on surface plastic concentration (pieces of plastic km−2) from 1972-1985 n=60 and 2002-2012 n=457 within the same plastic accumulation zone, found the mean plastic concentration increase between the two sets of data, including a 10-fold increase of 18,160 to 189,800 pieces of plastic km−2. And though this study is based on data of surface plastic concentration, not specifically microplastic, additional research has found microplastics to account for 92% of plastic debris on the ocean’s surface, which adds context to the study.Some researchers have proposed incinerating plastics to use as energy, which is known as energy recovery. As opposed to losing the energy from plastics into the atmosphere in landfills, this process turns some of the plastics back into energy that can be used. However, as opposed to recycling, this method does not diminish the amount of plastic material that is produced. Therefore, recycling plastics is considered a more efficient solution.With increasing awareness of the detrimental effects of microplastics on the environment, groups are now advocating for the removal and ban of microplastics from various products. One such campaign is 'Beat the Microbead', which focuses on removing plastics from personal care products. The Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation run the Global Microplastics Initiative, a project to collect water samples to provide scientists with better data about microplastic dispersion in the environment. UNESCO has sponsored research and global assessment programs due to the trans-boundary issue that microplastic pollution constitutes. These environmental groups will keep pressuring companies to remove plastics from their products in order to maintain healthy ecosystems.On April 11, 2013 in order to create awareness, artist Maria Cristina Finucci founded The Garbage patch state under the patronage of UNESCO and the Italian Ministry of the Environment.Computer modelling done by The Ocean Cleanup, a Netherlands foundation, has suggested that collecting devices placed nearer to the coasts could remove about 31% of the microplastics in the area. In addition, some bacteria have evolved to eat plastic, and some bacteria species have been genetically modified to eat (certain types of) plastics.

[ "Ecology", "Environmental chemistry", "Fishery", "Pollution", "Oceanography", "Manta trawl", "Plastisphere", "Plastic pollution" ]
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