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Microplastics – Macroproblem

Over the past few years, thanks to a huge increase in knowledge and awareness, most of us have been actively trying to reduce our plastic use in all areas of life. This is fantastic but we need to remember that this shouldn’t be something we do because it is trendy’ – For the future of our planet we need to make big changes and make them fast. Understanding the problems with plastic can help us to make changes that stick, the problem doesn’t lie only in how the plastic you buy is made but what happens to is once it has been used for 10 minutes and thrown away.

Eventually traditional plastics degrade into tiny particles –  into Microplastics. In December of 2020 a report was publish which confirmed that Microplastics had been found in the placentas of unborn babies in Italy, these particles are assumed to have entered the mothers bodies through inhalation or food.  In 2018 researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science analysed water samples from the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth, and in a single litre of the most polluted area they found 2000 pieces of microplastic.

The end result of our obsession with convenience plastic is that we are polluting not only our planet but ourselves.


Microplastics are defined as any piece of plastic that is smaller than 5mm – they can be invisible to the naked eye but still exist. Although they are tiny in appearance their long term effect is HUGE. Once plastics have become this small they are easily ingested by marine and land animals and enter the food chain or can be inhaled by us in the air.

There are 2 defined types of Microplastics PRIMARY microplastics are designed in their nature to be small. These are things like the small microbeads that used to be found in body scrubs and cosmetic products or the microfibres found in synthetic textiles and the virgin pellets which are used to make plastic products.

SECONDARY microplastics are the result of all plastic which degrades over time the plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces so we think the bottle or bag has ‘gone’ but in reality, it has just broken up into tiny fragments.


COSMETICS – There is now a ban on products containing microplastics such as facial and body scrubs etc in a lot of countries. As an alternative to these look at providing natural loofah sponges and brushes for guests and crew.

MICROFIBRE IN CLOTHING -Once of the largest single contributors of Primary microplastics that we can have some control over is the shedding of fibres from synthetic clothing. As far as possible buying natural fibre clothes can help (linen, hemp, cotton, silk, wool, tencel etc). Be aware of clothing made using ‘recycled plastic’ as this is then shedding fibres directly back into the water supply. There are filters being launched onto the market at the moment to add to Washing Machines to filter out these fibres but in the mean time a GUPPYFRIEND BAG is a great alternative to use to collect fibres that shed from any synthetic clothing and dispose of them properly (see image)


Another way to tackle the scary issue of microplastics which has been described as “like trying to pick up smarties with chop sticks” (Imogen Napper) is stop it entering into the environment in its original form before they become tiny. This means reducing our dependence on avoidable plastic.

REFUSE – All unnecessary single use plastics in every area both onboard and when ashore, Takeaway and disposable cutlery, straws etc Make it clear to suppliers that you do not want any single use plastics to be used in deliveries.

REDUCE – Plastic use wherever possible. A great way to do this si to switch to other materials, instead of plastic plates can you use metal ? Washing up sponges made from plastic shed fibred directly into the water –switch to a natural loofah sponge,  Reusable Menstrual Products, Reusable Cotton Wipes , The list is endless – keep it simple and swap where you can.

REUSE – Switching to systems like Bulk Toiletries, Cleaning Products and Installing Water Filtration Machines mean you can reuse bottles by refilling over and over again. This save plastic as the amount used in bulk containers is much less than the equivalent small bottles and the larger containers are more likely to make it to a recycling facility.

RECYCLE – When you do need to dispose of plastics onboard make an effort to find out where they will go. If you are on a remote island the chances are they will end up directly in the environment. If you are able, store clean sorted plastics onboard until you come to a place where there is at least a chance of the items entering into a proper waste system.

If you would like to know more about anything mentioned in our article or have any other suggestions please get in touch Safe Sailing x