Plastic-based materials and equipment have become ubiquitous all around the world. Virtually every product that we use consists of plastic or plastic derivatives. In some sense, we have become immensely dependent on plastics, both industrially and individually. Plastic components are used to build personal computers, vehicles, food containers, cosmetics, and a gamut of other products. Due to the broad spectrum of plastic use over the decades, the issue of plastic waste management presents itself constantly. According to United Nations Environment Programme (2021), the oceans get contaminated with over 8 million tons of plastic annually. Additionally, Jamaica produces approximately 120,000 tons of plastic from annual residential waste (United Nations Environment Programme, 2021). Apart from the more apparent and well-known threats plastics have on ecological systems, very few are aware of microplastics.
Image showing microplastic pollutants
Credit: Lim (2021)
National Geographic Society (2019) stated that microplastics are minute plastic remnants less than five millimetres in length. Predominantly, microplastics form when plastic pollutants are degraded by ocean waves or the radiation from the sun (National Geographic Society, 2019). Also, according to the National Geographic Society (2019), microplastics are split into groups called primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are used in various products, such as cosmetics, industrial cleaning agents and clothing. In comparison, secondary microplastics are formed from the degradation of larger plastics, such as bottles and plastic bags.
Dunzhu Li, an environmental engineer, reported to Nature-a scientific journal, that microplastics could be produced when baby bottles and kettles are exposed to heat (Lim, 2021). That means we may have already been ingesting microplastics without knowing. Furthermore, a study by Rose and Webber (2019) indicated measurable amounts of secondary microplastic pollutants at Kingston Harbour, Jamaica. Rose and Webber (2019) also discovered that these microplastic residues negatively impacted the root systems of nearby mangroves. Additionally, ineffective waste management of plastic debris on land directly results in the surface water microplastics found at Kingston Harbour.
Diagram showing surface water microplastic pollution.
Credit: Rose and Webber (2019)
Given these findings and Jamaica's plastic waste disposal concerns, the Jamaican government and especially its populous must be aware of microplastics' existential threat. Apart from funding more local research, a study by Clayton (2021) suggested that creating targeted approaches to specific subgroups may produce better results in mitigating plastic use. Rather than creating generalised protocols for plastic waste management- which seems up to this point ineffective, understanding the behavioural response to plastic waste management in different focus groups may be more advantageous. For example, Clayton (2021) stated that schools contribute significantly to plastic waste production. Therefore, conducting studies on this subgroup to understand their behavioural relationship to waste disposal may be critical to building regimens that eliminate current generic safeguards.
Ultimately, the Jamaican populous requires deeper sensitisation to microplastics. Conducting more local research about microplastics and the behavioural attitudes particular groups have concerning plastic waste management may be the key to considerably mitigating plastic waste.
By Jonmarc Adéjon Young
Clayton, C.A.B. (2021). Building collective ownership of single-use plastic waste in youth communities: A Jamaican case study. Social Sciences 10(11), 412-428.
Lim, X. (2021, May 04). Microplastics are everywhere-but are they harmful? Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01143-3
National Geographic Society. (2019, July). Microplastics. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/microplastics/
Rose, D. & Webber, M. (2019). Characterization of microplastics in the surface waters of Kingston Harbour. Science of the Total Environment, 664, 753–760. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.01.319
United Nations Environment Programme. (2021, January). Jamaica: plastics ban creates new opportunities.