It’s easy to see plastic pollution in the form of sea turtles eating plastic bags or a soda bottle floating down a river.
But much of Earth’s plastic pollution is invisible to us. These are microplastics: Pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters long.
And it’s hard to find a corner of the planet without them.
Imogen Napper/National Geographic
Scientists recently found tiny plastic fibers just below the summit of Mount Everest, one of Earth’s tallest and most-inaccessible mountains. The findings were published in the journal One Earth.
"These are the highest microplastics discovered so far," Imogene Napper, a scientist studying plastic accumulation at the University of Plymouth, said in a statement.
Although the full impact of microplastics isn’t certain, we know that animals can ingest them, and in turn those microplastics can end up in our food.
In a remote, high-altitude lake in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France, scientists found sand-grain-sized plastics and tiny plastic fibers.
In the Arctic, microplastics appear to be carried by winds and deposited in snowfall.
In the stomachs of baby fish. Scientists found microplastics inside larval swordfish, mahi mahi, and more.
In our bodies. In a 2018 study, researchers found microplastics accumulating in human waste.
“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it's time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care for our planet,” Napper says.
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