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What are microplastics?

Microplastics are very small particles of plastic debris

with a diameter of less than five millimetres.  

Microplastics are found in both aquatic and terrestrial environments, and their small size allows them to infiltrate ecosystems on a global scale. This includes Polzeath beach. 

Where do microplastics come from?
  • Particles arising from the breakdown of larger items of plastic litter in the environment, such as plastic packaging and water bottles.

  • Microfibres shed from textiles during use.

  • Particles resulting from tyre abrasion.

  • Tiny particles that have been manufactured for use in products such as cosmetics (sometimes called microbeads).

  • Spillage of tiny particles called Nurdles, which are used in the production of other plastic items. 

  • Release of bio-beads, small round microplastics used to breakdown faeces, from sewage overflows.

Effects on the Environment:

Microplastics pose serious threats to marine life, as aquatic organisms can ingest them, potentially leading to internal damage and even death. These particles can also accumulate toxic chemicals from the surrounding environment, which can enter the food chain when consumed by marine animals. Microplastics have been detected even in soil, affecting terrestrial ecosystems and potentially entering the food we grow.

Pathways of Exposure:

Microplastics find their way into the environment through various pathways. They can be transported by ocean currents across vast distances, carried by winds and deposited in remote areas, and enter the food chain when ingested by small organisms that are then consumed by larger ones, including humans.

Microplastics can absorb toxins and harmful chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POP). POP’s are toxic chemicals found in the air, water, and soil, and they have a profound effect on human health. They come from pesticides, toxins and other harmful chemicals. After absorbing these chemicals, they’re eaten by fish. The toxins in all the microplastics these fish are eating, slowly poisons them. Then either two things happen: 1) The fish dies and it’s eaten by another fish, who then starts to get poisoned too— or 2) You eat the fish for dinner yourself. These chemicals are now found in human breast milk and placenta.

Mitigation and Solutions:

Addressing the microplastics issue requires a multi-faceted approach. Reduction at the source involves minimizing plastic use, phasing out microbeads in personal care products, and adopting sustainable packaging practices. Innovative technologies for cleaning up microplastics from oceans and rivers are also being developed. Additionally, advocating for policy changes and supporting organizations focused on plastic pollution can drive systemic change.

Get Involved:

Join the fight against microplastics by participating in community cleanup events along coastlines and water bodies. Support ongoing research and spread awareness about the dangers of microplastics to encourage responsible consumer choices.

Come and get a litter picker and bucket from our Marine Centre to do your bit helping to keep our beach beautiful and plastic-free. 

At Polzeath Marine Conservation Group, we are committed to raising awareness about the impact of microplastics and promoting sustainable practices to reduce their presence in our environment. By working together, we can preserve our planet's beauty and health for generations to come.

Explore our website to learn more about microplastics and discover how you can contribute to a cleaner, plastic-free future.

Further reading


We would encourage you to read Plymouth University's information about the damage that this pollution can cause to life. Plymouth University has produced more scientific publications on the subject of marine plastic than any other university worldwide.

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