Plastic is all around us. It’s used in many products, including clothing, toys, cars, and electronics. This handy material is made from large molecules called polymers. Polymers consist of repeating units. Plastic contains other chemicals called additives. They give it features like strength, color, transparency, or flexibility.
Plastic is long-lasting and inexpensive to produce. But those features also make it a big pollution problem. Wood, paper, and metal fully biodegrade, or naturally break down. But plastic products don’t. Instead, they crumble into microplastic. Microplastic also comes from synthetic fabrics. These lab-made materials include polyester, nylon, and spandex. When you wear or wash them, they shed tiny plastic fibers. All those plastic particles may stay in the environment for hundreds or thousands of years.
Wind and water carry these plastic bits all over the world (see From Shore to Sea). Scientists have found microplastic just about everywhere. It’s in forests, beaches, remote mountaintops, caves, Antarctic ice, and even deep-sea trenches.
Microplastic can blow or flow into drinking water sources. Animals can drink it, or plants can absorb it. Then animals or people might eat the plants. When people eat food that contains plastic, it enters our bodies too.